Italy’s RAI Com has taken world sales on high-profile documentary “Hui He, the Soprano From the Silk Road,” which is about the personal and artistic journey of one of the world’s leading sopranos and also marks a milestone Italian-Chinese co-production.
Hui He was born and trained as a singer in the Chinese city of Xi’an, which is the Silk Road’s eastern terminus and home to the famed army of terracotta soldiers. Today she is one of the world’s leading interpreters of Italian operas such as “Tosca,” “Madama Butterfly,” and “Turandot.”
He is currently leading the cast of the late Anthony Minghella’s Metropolitan Opera production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” in New York.
The long-gestating doc is “the story of a young girl who decides to excel in an artistic field that is not part of her culture and succeeds,” says producer Agnese Fontana, who notes: “We were looking for a story with a Chinese protagonist, but also rooted in Italian culture.”
After approaching He in Verona, where she performs regularly, Fontana – whose credits include Golden Bear-winner “Caesar Must Die” by the Taviani Brothers – and her partner Rosario Di Girolamo pitched the project during a “China Day” at the first edition of Rome’s MIA market, in 2015. The RAI Com deal was inked during MIA’s current fifth edition.
Subsequent to MIA 2015 the project, which is directed by Andrea Prandstraller and Niccolò Bruna (“MagicArena”), was set up as a 50/50 Italy and China co-production when Fontana’s LeTalee company teamed up with Chinese producer Duan Peng (“Folk Songs Singing”) and his Sunny Way Culture Media company.
The choice of theme that is such a good fit has made this doc “a best-practice blueprint for co-productions between China and the rest of the world,” boasts Fontana. Certainly it can now serve to pave the way for a stronger cinematic collaboration between Italy and China.
Research started in China in 2016 on this musical road movie set in the grand opera houses of the West and in China, which also recounts the sacrifices the soprano had to make. The shoot was completed at the end of 2017.
The creative doc, which made the rounds of co-production platforms in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, world premiered in competition in 2017 at China’s Silk Road International Film Festival. In Italy it launched this year from Bologna’s Biografilm Festival with Hui He on hand.
RAI Com, which is the sales arm of Italian state broadcaster RAI, is now expected to launch the doc, which is conceived for theatrical play, at many more international fests and is looking to score global sales beyond Italy and China, where Fontana says its festival launch at a few other screenings have been packed.