Opera: Above the White Island

Aria: Above the White Island - sung in English and Mandarin [Chinese]



Synopsis of the Imagined Opera

Trapped in his room in London, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, our narrator – a Chinese student far from home – finds himself doubly estranged: distant from the familiar comforts of home and forced to grapple with the suspended reality of a locked down city on his own. Pacing the narrow space of his room, he retreats into his memories, and finds himself reminiscing on the classical Chinese poetry he was taught as a child. One poem in particular, by the Tang Dynasty poet and politician Du Fu, captures his imagination, and as he begins to translate it, he realises that the centuries-old poem of exile seems to closely foreshadow his current situation.  



Shengzhi Ren - Tenor

Chinese tenor Shengzhi Ren is an Emerging Artist at Scottish Opera, he has finished the Young Artist Program 2019/20 at National Opera Studio and his studies with Richard Berkeley-Steele and Ingrid Surgenor at Royal Academy Opera. From 2017 to 2019, he completed the Advanced Diploma in Opera at Royal Academy of Music with full scholarship. Before coming to the UK, Shengzhi trained at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where he graduated with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Bel Canto with honours. Shengzhi is grateful for the support of the Porter Fund Award and, as an alumnus of the Georg Solti Accademia (China Masterclass), is working towards a successful career exciting audiences in the world’s top operatic venues.

Among his prizes and awards, he won first prize in the 2016 International Singing Contest for Young People (Vocal) in Macau, first prize in the 2015 Golden Bell Awards, first prize in the 2010 National Singing Contest for Young People and Asian International Vocal Singing Contest (Hong Kong), third prize and Public award in the 2019 Neapolitan Masters Competition in Italy.

Among the operatic roles he has performed as Vaudémont Iolanta, Don José Carmen, Tamino The Magic Flute, Nemorino Lelisir damore and Borsa Rigoletto. He has also sung Prince Cinderella (Opera North) and Rodolfo La bohème (Welsh National Opera). Among his Royal Academy Opera Scenes performances are Belfiore Il viaggio a Reims, Fenton Falstaff, Ruggero La rondine, Alfredo La traviata and Rodolfo.


Derek Clark - Repetiteur

Derek Clark was born in Glasgow, and is an Honours graduate of the RSAMD and the University of Durham. He also studied at the London Opera Centre before joining Welsh National Opera as a repetiteur in 1977, making his professional conducting debut in 1981 with Handel’s Tamerlano.

He has been Head of Music at Scottish Opera since 1997, and has conducted more than 25 operas for the company, including major works by Handel and Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Massenet, Puccini, and Gilbert & Sullivan.

He works as an accompanist, appearing regularly throughout the country, and is a regular Guest Coach at the major conservatoires and colleges and at the National Opera Studio. Though most of his professional life has been spent in the opera house, he has also found time to compose and arrange music for a wide variety of people and circumstances.

His chamber orchestration of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel in particular has gained wide currency and will be used this season for performances at Covent Garden, Halle, and Magdeburg.

He was appointed Musical Director of Dundee Choral Union in 2011, and since 2014 has been Director of Music at Helensburgh Parish Church.


Creative Team

Alex Ho - Composer

Alex Ho is a British-Chinese composer based in London. One of the London Symphony Orchestra's 'Soundhub' composers, Alex has had pieces performed/commissioned by the LSO, Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Radio 3, Royal Opera House, Music Theatre Wales, London Sinfonietta, Nevis Ensemble, Juice Vocal Ensemble, and Roderick Williams. His works have featured on platforms including SoundState Festival (Southbank Centre, London), Sound Unbound (Barbican Centre, London), Snape Maltings, Cheltenham Music Festival, Oxford Lieder Festival, HighScore Festival (Pavia, Italy), and BBC Late Junction. Alex was joint-winner of the Philip Bates Composition Competition in 2016, one of Sound and Music's 'New Voices 2018', a Help Musicians UK Fusion Fund Artist in 2019, and winner of the George Butterworth Award 2020. 


Alex studied Music at Oxford University and graduated with first-class honours before completing a composition master’s at Cambridge University where he was awarded the Arthur Bliss Prize for attaining the highest mark across the university. He is studying for a doctorate at the Royal College of Music with a full AHRC scholarship (LAHP Studentship supported by RCM).


Theophilus Kwek - Librettist

Theophilus Kwek is a writer, translator, editor and independent researcher based in Singapore. He has published four full-length collections of poetry, two of which were shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. In addition, his pamphlet, The First Five Storms, was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Award and won the inaugural New Poets’ Prize. His most recent collection, Moving House, was recently released by Carcanet Press in the UK. He previously served as President of the Oxford University Poetry Society and Editor-at-Large for Asymptote, a journal of world literature. He is presently a Co-Editor of Oxford Poetry. 

Past collaborations include Ways of Walking, which featured Theophilus’ poems alongside paintings by Alvin Ong, produced to raise funds for Refugee Resource (an Oxford-based charity), and Terezin, a long poem adapted as a chamber opera by Daniel Bonaventure Lim, and presented as part of the ‘Performing the Jewish Archives’ project at the University of Leeds. Theophilus is also a violinist, and a former member of both the Singapore National Youth Orchestra and the Oxford University Orchestra.