A Day in the Life of Warren Mok, Founder of Opera Hong Kong
Don José in Carmen, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Calaf in Turandot and Radames in Aida: Warren Mok has played them all. The Beijing-born, Hong Kong-based tenor has built a repertoire of 60 operatic roles since his European debut in 1987 at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. In the vein of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras, he is one of China’s “Three Tenors”—alongside Dai Yuqiang and Wei Song; in 2012, the trio toured the world to promote Chinese culture. His love for opera motivated him to set up Opera Hong Kong, a company that stages productions and organises youth education and singing programmes. His efforts in cultivating a culture of appreciation for opera saw him awarded the Bronze Bauhinia Star by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region this year, one of many awards and titles he has received both locally and internationally.
His next production, Madama Butterfly, the classic tragic love story by Puccini, will run from October 6 to 10. We caught up with Mok to learn about a day in his life.
I go to bed very late, at around 2am. So my regular wake-up time is 10am. Before 10am, you cannot find me. I turn off the phone so no one can disturb me. That is me being an artistic director. But if I have a performance that day, I will get up even later, at around 11am.
I have oatmeal, eggs—scrambled or sunny side up—and a piece of toast. That’s it. The first thing I do right after breakfast is turn on the television for the local and international news, not music. I like to see what’s going on in the world.
If it’s a performance day, I skip breakfast and go right into lunch around 12.30. I don’t eat anything spicy, even though I love it [spices can affect the voice], and I make sure I have a really filling lunch, with meat—because lamb or beef gives me good energy—and pasta or rice. I need a lot of energy for singing because we use our diaphragm to produce the voice that resonates through the hall; we never use microphones for operas in a theatre or concert hall. So I have to be very careful with what I eat. I love good food. Cantonese cuisine is my first choice, then Italian, French, Spanish, in that order.
But if I’m not performing that day, I can eat anything. I will have lunch at around half-past one or two o’clock. If I feel good that day, I warm up my voice by singing for half an hour, and then go to my office.
On a performance day, I go back to my hotel room [if I am overseas] after lunch and take a nap for two hours, and then warm up my voice and get ready to perform in the evening. In Hong Kong, I am just an artist director, generally speaking. I don’t perform here that often anymore. But if I have to sing in Hong Kong, I just stay home the whole day.
I have a very light meal before my performance, maybe a sandwich. Otherwise, I will fall asleep. Sometimes the opera is very long – three or four hours long. Between acts, I have an apple or banana to give me some energy.
After every performance, I get so hungry, I’m dying for some stir-fried noodles. I remember one time I was singing in Sweden. I tried to find a restaurant after 10am, but all the restaurants were closed. I had to find a petrol station and I had a hot dog. Oh my gosh.
I get so excited, especially after a very good performance. To wind down, I watch television, either the news or some drama or a movie. If it’s YouTube, of course it’s going to be music, symphonies or operas. If it’s Netflix, what I watch depends on my mood. Sometimes, I go for comedies, sometimes drama, adventure or action films. Recently, I’m really into The Crown because I met the Queen. She watched me perform and shook my hand, and I talked to her and Prince Philip. That made me more interested to learn about their history through the series.