Long before we all had the pleasure of meeting Susan Boyle, there was Paul Potts. The dentally-challenged cellphone salesman walked onto the stage of the reality TV show Britain’s Got Talent and announced that he wanted to “sing opera”. The show’s judges rolled their eyes.
But when Potts then launched into a soaring rendition of Nessun Dorma he soon had the audience on its feet. He went on to win the competition and his audition clip has been viewed nearly 70 million times on YouTube.
Now China’s take on Britain’s Got Talent has its own unlikely star. And the man wowing audiences loves opera too.
Xu Hongdong, a farmer from Anhui province chose, like Potts, to launch a version of Nessun Dorma at the judges. The aria, from Puccini’s Turandot, seems to have become the default option for canny crooners worldwide. Not that Xu has much feel for the aria itself (an ode to a frigid princess). He told the judges rather honestly that he had “absolutely no idea what each word or lyric means, but I roughly know what the song is about.”
Xu said he started learning to sing 12 years ago. He fell in love with Italian opera when he watched the Three Tenors perform at the World Cup Final in 1990.
“I had never heard such beautiful voices and looking at the Three Tenors, I thought, I’d like to have that opportunity,” Xu told the Southern People Magazine. “I set it as my future goal in life.”
Xu used the little money he had to buy a used cassette player and a tape of Pavarotti’s arias. He played the songs day after day to memorise the sound of the words, even singing in the fields (an arresting image – sounds like Zhu may have employed a PR consultant). At the time his neighbours said he had lost his mind. Others joked that he sounded like a donkey.
Now 31, Xu saw the advertisement for China’s Got Talent, and knew he had to try out. “I just needed a stage,” he said.
Though Xu’s performance was less than perfect – his pitch was a bit off and few Italians would have recognised that the song was actually being delivered in their language – at least it felt genuine. As with Potts and Boyle, many viewers seem to have had an emotional response. On Chinese video-sharing site tudou.com, the performance has been attracting positive reviews.
But this time, no fairy tale. Xu’s brief run of fame came to an end, when he was voted off last week in the semi-final. With Rmb2,600 for prize money, Xu said he will be buying a compact-disc player and new recordings of his idol.
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