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Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu.

On June 23, 2001 (World Olympic Day), Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras, the Three Tenors performed at the Forbidden City, using their heavenly high Cs to express their support for Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Games. Now, as the big event draws near, the city once again prepares to host a true A-list cast of world opera performers.

As one of the highlights of the Meet in Beijing 2008 Olympic Arts Festival, the Divas in Beijing concert series will feature Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu and Sumi Jo. Other concerts starring new-generation tenors Marcello Giordani, Salvatore Licitra, Roman Vargas, Jonas Kaufmann and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky will also be given at the National Center for the Performing Arts and the Great Hall of the People.

The divas and tenors gala concerts will be a feast for both local opera fans and international visitors to Beijing.

"We've presented lots of shows and exhibitions in the last two months to celebrate the Olympic Games," says Zhang Yu, general manager of China Arts and Entertainment Group, the company organizing the Meet in Beijing 2008 Olympic Arts Festival.

"As the event gets closer, the Arts Festival is reaching its peak and more spectacular performances will run.

"It is a challenge to bring these world's best sopranos and tenors together. Fortunately, they have shown great interest in performing in Beijing during the special time. I believe the divas and tenors concerts will highlight the cultural calendar of the Beijing Olympic Games," Zhang says.

Promoter Rick Garson says the concerts will perfectly complement the sports. "In the daytime, people can cheer for the world's best athletes and in the evening, they can enjoy performances from the best singers in the world."

Garson certainly has the pedigree - he has been staging the biggest TV entertainment events in the US for years.

Superstar Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu will kick off the Divas In Beijing series at the Great Hall of the People on August 7, the night before the Games opening ceremony.

Accompanied by the China National Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of young French conductor Emmanuel Villaume, the glamorous soprano will sing arias from Puccini's Madame Butterfly, Bizet's Carmen, Verdi's La Forza Del Destino and popular arts songs.

"As a Romanian artist I have always considered myself as a world citizen thanks to the gift I received and which I want to share with the whole world," says Gheorghiu, who performed at the 2008 New Year concert with the China Philharmonic Orchestra in Beijing. "I feel honored to return to China on the occasion of the Olympic Games."

Gheorghiu will be followed by the rising South Korean coloratura soprano Sumi Jo, who will sing at the National Center for the Performing Arts on August 11, her first visit to Beijing. Her program includes Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, Rossini's Barber of Seville and a variety of Korean songs.

Praised for the remarkable agility, precision and warmth of her voice, Jo has established herself as one of her generation's most sought-after sopranos.

The South Korean diva is looking forward to performing in Beijing. "I love the idea of combining the talents from the world's different regions and I am proud to be singing at such a historic event in Asia, my home region," says Jo, who will return to Beijing to sing with the China Philharmonic Orchestra at the Beijing Music Festival in October.

American soprano Renee Fleming will perform two gala concerts, sharing the stage with Sumi Jo, the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann and the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky at the Great Hall of the People on August 14 and then signing with Kaufmann at the National Center for the Performing Arts on August 16.

Between the divas' concerts, the three next-generation tenors - Ramon Vargas, Marcello Giordani and Salvatore Licitra - will perform at the Great Hall of the People on August 13.

Mexican lyric tenor Vargas, 48, won first prize in the Enrico Caruso Competition in Milan in 1986. In true operatic tradition, he shot to stardom by replacing a big-name star - in his case he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Lucia di Lammermoor in 1993, replacing Luciano Pavarotti. The critics and media described his debut as a "phenomenal success".

Hailed as an extraordinarily versatile artist, and in demand by the world's major opera houses and symphony orchestras, the Sicilian-born tenor Marcello Giordani has a true spinto voice with his flawless breath control and a bright, ringing top.

Forty-year-old Swiss-Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra has been dubbed the "New Pavarotti" since his debut in 1998.

This trio of tenors will perform solos, duets and trios, while Licitra has even prepared a special Chinese song for his Beijing concert.

(China Daily July 29,2008)

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