Baritone in the Mongolian Steppes

Enkhbat talking with Plácido Domingo
after the Operalia competition, June 2012
Enkhbat receiving his gold medal
from Plácido Domingo as best male singer
in Operalia competition, Beijing, June 2012
Enkhbat in costume for a performance
of Mongolian songs, February 2012

Enkhbat’s pure and relatively untrained voice has been shown to good advantage in the leading roles in “Rigoletto” and “Don Giovanni” or as Scarpia in “Tosca,” Iago in “Otello,” and Gilvoy in “Eugene Onegin.” Instead of creating hindrance, his relatively limited exposure to these roles, ironically, offers him myriad — and culturally unconditioned — choices for his interpretations. One may, perhaps, wonder if such a gift is guided by an intuitive drive. Without the dramatic contacts among civilizations, it is unlikely that the outside world would have heard about a singer in Ulaanbaatar, not to mention in the remote steppes of Mongolia. Enkhbat also continues to participate in performances of traditional Mongolian songs and in such modern Mongolian operas as “Genghis Khan.” In June 2012, in Beijing, he reached perhaps the height of his career when Plácido Domingo awarded him the gold medal as best male singer in the annual Operalia competition. He also won the silver medal in the Tchaikovsky competition held in Moscow. While he appears to be headed to an important career in international opera, he claims that his greatest joy is singing to his horse in the beautiful and pristine Mongolian countryside. “I sing to my animals,” he says, “in the same way that I sing at the State Opera and Ballet Theater or, soon, at La Scala.” Nostalgia for the countryside of his youth is ever-present in his conversation and perhaps imperceptibly shapes his interpretations, though I could not, at several performances, detect such direct influences in his musical choices.

One may imagine, or question, the artistic underpinnings — and possibilities — that may emerge with a rare Mongolian presence on what we often thought to be a Western-dominated opera scene. Yet, as contemporary artists such as Chinese pianist Lang Lang and Asian-American composer Tan Dun have shown, non-Westerners have been making consistent and meaningful contributions to Western musical forms, all of which may allow us to further acknowledge the porosity of artistic boundaries and fusion. After all, one of the Mongols’ most lasting legacies is probably the sustained East-West interrelationships.[2] Undeniably, globalization has enabled Enkhbat’s career as an international performing artist of our times. Without the dramatic contacts among civilizations, it is unlikely that the outside world would have heard about a singer in Ulaanbaatar, not to mention in the remote steppes of Mongolia. Mongolians now have an alternative to Chinggis Khan for whom they can be proud in the international arena — and hopefully in this, an invitation to renew their Mongolian identity, as well as our contemporary understanding, curiosity and interest in the “Land of the Blue Sky.”

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REFERENCES

  1. “From Mongol times on, events in Europe would have an impact on the Middle East and East Asia, and Asian styles in art, dress, and religion would influence the West. The Mongol invasions ushered in global interconnections and global history. The fact that the Mongols are mentioned in contemporary sources in Chinese, Japanese, Uyghur, Tibetan, Old Russian, Georgian, Armenian, Persian, Arabic, Syriac, and Latin attests to their impact on much of the Eurasian world.” — See Ibid. 124.

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