We caught up with baritone Clinton Fung, ahead of the world premiere season of The Bone Feeder.
A member of our Auckland Chorus, baritone Clinton Fung made his New Zealand Opera debut in our 2014 season of La Bohème in Christchurch. He's been a regular performer with New Zealand Opera since then, appearing in last year's The Magic Flute and our Opera in Schools production of The Elixir of Love. Next month, he takes on the role of Dan in the world premiere season of The Bone Feeder at Auckland's ASB Waterfront Theatre. Commissioned by Auckland Arts Festival and presented in association with New Zealand Opera, this new opera explores the mysteries, traumas and gifts of migration, home and belonging.
Tell us about the story behind The Bone Feeder and Dan, the character you portray:
Dan is a young and energetic teenager from China in search of fortune during New Zealand’s gold rush. Dan knows how to enjoy life; he’s a connoisseur of great food and wine - some might say he’s also a ladies man. During his time in New Zealand, Dan is killed in a mining-related accident. His last wish is for his bones to be transported back to China. During the process of transporting his bones (along with 498 other miners’ bones), the SS Ventnor sank just outside of the Hokianga Harbour. Dan’s soul has remained there ever since. In the opera, we see Dan’s lingering soul alongside those of his two buddies Sam and Wang.
Is it a story that resonates with your own experiences?
Definitely! The last time we work-shopped the piece, it was emotional for everyone involved and we did a closed showcase at the end of the process. During the showcase, I was holding back tears the entire time. In a scene between Ben and Kwan, the great great grandfather Kwan said: "Tell me of your family. Their names, how they dress, what they eat, if they speak Chinese." When those lines were delivered, my eyes turned into Niagara Falls. It reminded me of something my late grandfather said to me just before he passed on. He said: “wherever you go, remember where you are from, uphold our culture and teach your kids our language”. The Bone Feeder for me is not just an incredibly touching story but a great reminder of where we all come from.
How did you get into opera?
There’s no straight answer to this! When I moved to Auckland in 2010 to complete high school, I wanted to be an athlete. After countless failed sports team trails, I ended up in the last place any sports person would go - the music department, where they were looking for singers. I joined my high school choir where one thing led to another. Before I know it, I was in the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Choir, the New Zealand Youth Choir and studying Classical Voice Performance at the University of Otago. Everything happened very fast in a short period of time.
Last year, you were a chorus member in The Magic Flute and part of NZO’s Opera in Schools production of Elixir. Two very different experiences! What were the highlights of these for you?
The Opera in Schools tour was incredible. We performed to 7,500 students and teachers over four weeks. The highlight of the tour would definitely be riding the motor scooter - I don’t know if anyone in the team knew about my phobia at the time! I had a violent bike crash when I was young, some bones were broken, I had a smashed face and broken front teeth. Though riding the scooter in the show was only for a few seconds, it was enough to tip me over the edge (pun intended!) from time to time.
Performing to a young audience is always exciting as you are introducing something new to them. It’s not daunting, it’s more a case of ‘let’s see where this goes’. After every show, the cast members would talk to our young audiences and so many would say: “When I grow up, I want to be an opera singer like you!” That would possibly be the most rewarding thing for the Opera in Schools team and it is an indication that the team is doing something right. The Opera in Schools tour allow performers to get a glimpse into an operatic career and I wish this year’s team all the best - it is an incredible experience.
Other than The Bone Feeder, what have you got planned this year?
This year, I am working full time as a waiter and mainly saving up to head overseas for auditions in tertiary institutions. Alongside that, I am very fortunate be involved in NZO’s Carmen, Kátya Kabanová, and their co-production of Manon Lescaut with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.