Tā (他/她)

Mike Fan

Bringing Music to Life

Tā (他/她) was created in Tkaronto, Tio’tia:ke, and Coast Salish Territory, unceded territory of many including the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississaugas of the Credit, Métis, Mohawk; Kanien’kehá:ka; Esquimalt, Lekwungen, Songhees, and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples. May we love, respect, and cherish the lands and people that come before us.

Coming from my perspective as a non-binary, queer, second-generation immigrant Chinese Canadian artist, Tā (他/她) is my union of opera East and West, exploring a mélange of gender, culture, and sexuality. My title comes from the Chinese pronouns for he (他) and she (她), pronounced the same way. Prior to European colonist influence in the early 1900s, the gender binary did not exist in China until a new female pronoun was created. Today, non-binary people like me are reclaiming gender ambiguity by using the phonetic PinYin “Tā” or the new invented character “X也”. Tā (他/她) explores a complex intermingling of identities in five chapters interwoven with a journey from Toronto’s Harbourfront to Chinatown.

I straddle a complex multiplicity of identities in my performing life as a male-presenting tenor in European classical music alongside my subversive female drag persona Tanya Smania. I explore this with opera and song repertoire inspired by the East as well as Dàn female drag costume and makeup with special participation by Starlight Chinese Opera. 旦 (Dàn) are female-identifying roles more commonly performed by men in the past, a fascinating parallel to the European opera traditions of castrato and trouser roles, both of which are common drag elements embedded in Western opera.

1. 艺术 (YìShù) / Art explores my origins as a shy, artistic child through queer icon Tchaikovsky’s Cradle Song. As a child, my mother would sometimes hum Russian tunes and this music and language has always fascinated me. In fact, in my parents’ home province of Xinjiang the highway signs are in Chinese, Uyghur, and Cyrillic scripts – visual proof of this intriguing cultural crossover. In light of recent turmoil in Eastern Europe, this is also a moment to remember our shared humanity and the beauty of intercultural understanding and learning.

2. 美丽 (MěiLì) / Beauty explores my early fascination with “feminine” things – Barbies, pretty jewellery, clothes, and heels. I was teased about my “girliness” relentlessly as a sensitive child. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I realized my non-binary identity when gender issues entered the mainstream public arena. Reflecting the divine feminine in us all, this is a world première of Pauline Viardot-García “La japonaise”. I had the pleasure of celebrating her 2021 Bicentennial with my Masters SSHRC recital “Chez Pauline Viardot”. I also had meaningful discussions about the “submissive Asian woman” stereotype with my pianist Hyejin and the shared micro-aggressions we face as Asians in classical music.

3. 过程 (GuòChéng) / Process tackles my dark adolescent years. There was a great conflict within me to conform to what I thought was “right” according to society, my family, and my culture. Puccini’s “Non piangere Liù” from his Chinese opera Turandot encapsulates this struggle, with a dream cameo moment when I sing Liù’s line as my drag persona Tanya.

4. 爱 (Aì) / Love celebrates my realization and subsequent choice to step out at least into the light and come out as queer as well as to pursue my authentic artistic path after premed studies. Léhar’s exuberant “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” crowns this moment – as well as reclaiming “The Land of Smiles” as a person of Chinese descent.

5. 选择 (XuǎnZé) / Choice closes my program with Chan Ka Nin’s enigmatic and haunting “Past and Present”, Siu Leen’s aria from “Dragon’s Tale”. Despite my journey of self-acceptance and self-love, it is still complex navigating my multiplicity of identities encompassing gender, culture, and sexuality. Yet it is a beautiful journey I wouldn’t have any other way. I have had my fair share of ups and downs, yet they have all led me to this point, exactly as I was meant to be. May you also find this peace within yourself and continue to live it as long as you were destined…

My gratitude to my inspiring mentors Kimberley-Ann Bartczak, Nicholas Borg, Alice Chan, Tiffany Chen, Tracy Dahl, Tom Diamond, Sean Guist, Rebecca Hass, Miriam Khalil, Shawn Macdonald, Nicole Malcolm, Giuseppe Pietraroia, Christopher Sibbald, Anna Theodosakis, Mike Walker, and Lawrence (Lance) Wiliford. To my beloved and long-suffering JoJo whose B-roll filming and Chinatown restaurant dates made this all worthwhile. And above all, to my mother and father and their decision to immigrate to North America while showing me the utmost love and resilience throughout the most trying of times.” – Mike Fan

Chinese-Canadian, queer, and gender non-binary tenor Mike Zuming Fan | 范祖铭 (they) possesses a warm full lyric instrument with impressive power, agility, and range. Mike makes their Pacific Opera Victoria début as a 2021-2022 Young Artist in the Civic Engagement Quartet, filming a gender-bending digital recital Tā (她 / 他) as well appearances and performances in the Victoria community.