Magazine article The New Yorker

Opera Buffet

Magazine article The New Yorker

Opera Buffet

Article excerpt

When the bass opera singer Hao Jiang Tian packs for a concert tour, he includes CDs, scores, and librettos of the roles he will perform, and what he calls "my dear little piano," a small Casio synthesizer with a two-and-a-half-octave keyboard that matches his voice range. Special equipment packed by his wife, Dr. Martha Liao, a lapsed biochemist: a lethal-looking meat cleaver, a light but sturdy deep skillet, and two rigid wire cones that hold poultry vertically during roasting.

"After each of Tian's performances, I cook dinner for friends, and the main course is always Peking duck," Liao said, explaining the metal cones. "That way, the ducks roast evenly on all sides while the fat melts down into a pan of water below."

"Martha has cooked at least a thousand ducks in New York alone," Tian said the other night, as his wife prepared yet another feast for eight. It was a semi-farewell before she and her husband took off on a six-month tour, a schedule that makes it impossible for Tian to sing this season at the Metropolitan Opera, where he has been celebrated for his portrayal of Timur, in "Turandot," among other roles. He finds the piece especially gratifying because it is set in his native city of Beijing.

The ducks are roasted in the small kitchen of the couple's apartment near Lincoln Center, where they have lived for twelve years, and which they share with a green parrot named Luke. After they had owned the parrot for twenty-six years, a veterinarian pronounced Luke a female, but the name stuck.

"Then, strangely, Luke began laying eggs," Liao said. "He-she likes sunflower seeds and Peking duck.

"We try to take an apartment whenever we travel, and hope for a good kitchen," she went on. "They don't understand why I want knobs on the kitchen cabinets. That's where I can hang the ducks by strings for twenty-four hours, so the skin dries. Otherwise, the ducks hang from the shower rod or I sit them on a counter in front of a small electric fan."

"Wherever they go, there are ducks hanging around," said Lois B. Morris, the co-author of Tian's memoir, "Along the Roaring River: My Wild Ride from Mao to the Met." "In 2007, I lived with them in Central City, Colorado, and between performances they took a few days' break. I was left alone with the live parrot and three dead ducks hanging over pots to catch the drippings. …

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