Norwegian Christina Lein has not only won the Chinese version of Idol for foreigners in Beijing, she is also the first Westerner to study Chinese opera in Beijings most prestigious music school, Central Conservatory of Music.
“My friends think that I am crazy studying Chinese opera,” she laughs.
But Lein it’s not crazy, she just likes to experience different things. Whilst her friends travelled to the US or the UK after high school, Lein from Tromså decided to move to China. She was no stranger to the city, since her mother worked for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), a trip to the middle kingdom was nothing out of the ordinary for her.
Moving there, she soon fell in love with the city, people and culture.
“Since my family is very interested in music we got to know many people in the cultural sphere here. They were the ones that suggested me to audition for the school,” Lein said.
So she did, and four months after her first audition, she got accepted. That made her the first Westerner ever to enter the school where she is now studying opera as her major subject by the age of 20.
“I felt very honored when I got accepted, many people have tried to get in for years,” Lein said.
Since all the classes are conducted in Chinese, Lein had to study the Chinese language for a year. That meant she had to integrate herself with the Chinese culture and language from day one. Besides studying hard, having private lessons with a teacher after school, she also made many visits to spots where she could find Chinese people to practice the language with.
“I spent many hours in the park speaking to seniors,” Lein said with a smile, it was really rough, when I listened to the radio in the taxi on my home, I sometimes thought: “Will I ever learn this?”.
But she did, and during her first year in China, her Chinese got so good that she was able to participate at the Idol-like competition Arts from our land competition. The idea of the program is letting Westerners sing in Chinese for a Chinese audience. After several rounds, the best singer in Chinese wins.
The program was broadcast during Chinese New Year and was seen by 300 million viewers. Best of all, Lein won the competition!
“It was such a great experience, even if the prize was modest. I got a lot of attention and had the opportunity to do other performances as well,” Lein said.
So by the time she entered the school, she was a well recognized face.
“I guess nobody was expecting a white girl and people stared in the beginning but many of my classmates knew about me and they were all very welcoming,” Lein said.
Even if Christina Lein is the only Westerner, the teachers don’t treat her differently in any way.
“I have to pass all the exams without using an English dictionary,” she said with a laugh. “They expect me to write fluently as well, but I am glad for that though.”
For Christina Lein its hard to explain why she chose Chinese opera, she just knew she didn’t want to sing the more traditional Peking opera.
“I never been a fan of opera, but the more I listened to Chinese opera, the more I loved it. There is hidden treasure in Chinese opera that many people don’t know about, the Chinese lyrics are really unique,” she said.
The Idol competition is just one of many performances that Christina Lein participated in. She has also had one of the main roles in the Korean musical Maria, Maria, and she sang during Regatta sailing closing ceremony during the Olympics in Qingdao and she has also performed before the Norwegian Queen and King. Not to mention the numerous private parties and other ceremonies that she has attended.
“In the future I want to have the opportunity to travel to Europe and be able to exchange what I learned here. Many people think that Chinese opera is Peking opera, but it’s so much more than that,” Lein said.
Chinese opera have lyrics that are deep and about love and nature, like Western opera but now and then red guard lyrics can link in.
“Right now we are singing, “I am in love with China”. The text is beautiful so it appeals to me, I guess I feel like I am a proper Chinese,” Lein said with a smile.
Lein’s dream is to sing musicals on Broadway and even if musical and opera are two whole different techniques of singing, she has already been in contact with agents to help her with auditions.
“I have to bring everything that I I am learning here and make the best of it. I really want to achieve something from the 6 years I have been studying music,” Lein said.
For Christina Lein, the fact that she has been able to embrace the Chinese culture and people very closely has given her some of her best experiences in China. She has made many good Chinese friends and since she also works for SAS in Beijing as their event coordinator, she gets to meet with other Westerners as well.
“Even if I have cried myself to sleep in the beginning, I am glad I came to China and I got to know these funny and adorable people. And I got the opportunity to do what I love the most, sing!” Lein said.