In tune with Chinese opera
16-year-old to take starring role Sunday
By Patricia Jiayi Ho, Staff Writer
SAN GABRIEL -- Her favorite band is Slipknot, but when Elizabeth Paich heard the sounds of Chinese opera wafting through the Summer Palace in Beijing, it captured her imagination like no heavy metal band had.
"I fell in love with it," said the 16-year-old, who visited China on a school trip the summer of 2004. "The music and the voices -- Chinese music is just really interesting and beautiful to me."
Back home, the 16-year-old Paich found a teacher of Chinese opera and, one year later, will give her first public performance at the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium on Sunday.
What first struck her teacher, Wei Wang, was Paich's youth and ethnic background, as the audience for Chinese opera tends to be older and, well, Chinese.
Then, he was impressed by her dedication and the quality of her voice.
"I thought I would just teach her one piece for interest and that would be it. What I didn't realize was she loved this thing so much she just kept practicing," Wang said. "Once she's on, she's really good. Her voice is beautiful."
Sunday's performance will be the first formal stage setting for Paich. She will be accompanied by a live orchestra and other cast members. Previously, she's sung at Viewpoint School in Calabasas, where she is in her senior year, and at the Lotus Festival in Echo Park in Los Angeles.
"I've always wanted to perform but everyone does jazz and piano. Going halfway across the world and finding this is unique," Paich said.
She began studying the Chinese language three years ago almost by default, after becoming frustrated with verb conjugation in her Spanish class. Since that day at the Summer Palace, Paich has listened repeatedly to a CD of Beijing-style opera.
"Singing along, I found that I could actually hit the notes," said Paich, who is no stranger to the world of music and performance.
Her father is David Paich, the pianist and songwriter for Grammy award-winning band Toto, most famous for songs such as "Africa" and "Rosanna."
For Sunday's opera, she will play the title role in "Guifei Zuijiu," or "The Tipsy Concubine."
The 20-minute-long opera is about the legendary beauty and concubine, Yang Guifei, who waits eagerly for a visit from the emperor, only to be disappointed when he doesn't show.
Wendy Chang, president of the Chinese Opera Association, said she hopes Paich's performance will help generate more cross-cultural, cross-generational interest in the art form, which dates back more than 1000 years to the Tang dynasty.
She expects Paich's performance will help draw a crowd of 700 to 800 Sunday night. The Alhambra-based nonprofit was founded in 1997 and puts on two to four shows a year.
Unlike contemporary pop music, Wang said the taste for Chinese opera is an acquired one.
"You have to have the mood, you have to have the background," he said. "It's not easy to get in, but once you're in, it's not easy to get out. I think for Elizabeth, the opera will be in her life forever."
Patricia Jiayi Ho can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4461, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.