UH grad Warren Mok comes home to star in Don Carlo, the first time Hawaii Opera Theatre has staged Verdi’s classic, and reveals the ice cube trick he learned from Pavarotti.  Opera or accounting? It wasn’t a hard decision for

Friday - February 01, 2008
By Alice Keesing
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a handful of years later, as the understudy for the man himself at Opera Berlin. Mok was terrified when Pavarotti arrived and asked him to continue rehearsing while he observed.

“He was very nice, he was very complimentary,” Mok remembers now. “I also remember he used to keep a bucket of ice and, in between singing, he would come off stage and chew ice, gargle with ice cubes, spit it out and go and sing again,” Mok says.

Until then Mok had used warm water to soothe his vocal chords, but ever since he has used Pavarotti’s trick with ice-cold water.

“It’s better, it works!” he exclaims.

During his career, Mok has performed at some of the world’s great venues, including New York’s Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall. He has recorded four solo albums, one duet album and eight opera CDs.

Among his favorite reviews, most surely, must be the one in England’s The Guardian, which praised his rock-solid technique, his beautiful, even timbre and engaging enthusiasm on stage, not to mention his ringing top notes that “were attacked and held in rocklike Pavarotti vein.”

Mok spends about half the year on the road, and has performed everywhere from Sydney to Lithuania. It was during his travels - specifically in a hotel lobby in Taipei - that he met his future wife, Winnie.

“She was talking to someone in the lobby, and I said, ‘Would you like to see the opera?’ and she said, ‘What’s that?’ “

The couple married on HOT’s set of La Boheme in 1995. Akina chuckles that the marriage was “very Warren.”

“Warren doesn’t think small,” he explains.

Continuing the Moks’ Island connection, their son Leighton,was born in Honolulu in 1996.

Mok cut back on his performing engagements last year so he could spend more time at home in Hong Kong with his family and focusing on his second career. The tenor, it turns out, is also a businessman. In 2003, Mok co-founded Opera Hong Kong, the city’s first opera company. He is also artistic director of the Macao International Music Festival.

“It’s some kind of calling inside of me,” he says. “I felt that I should share my knowledge back home with the Chinese people, share what I’d learned in the West. In the Western culture, opera is the most complete art form.”

The Italian government recently knighted Mok for his work promoting opera in Hong Kong. Being named a Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella della Solidarita Italiana is a great honor, approved by the Italian president himself.

Mok brings his dual careers to this weekend’s production of Don Carlo. While he stars in the opera, he also is one of its co-producers. For the first time ever, HOT has teamed up with three other opera houses in a co-production. It is the first time the United States, China and Canada have joined forces in an artistic endeavor of this magnitude. Verdi’s opera is a challenge for smaller opera houses because of the scenic spectacle and voluminous cast, so sharing resources this way has allowed HOT to produce Don Carlo for the first time in its 50-year history.

“Having 150 people on stage is normal for us,” Akina says.“But we’re well over 200 for this one - we have everyone from heretics to kings on stage.”

When Don Carlo finishes its Honolulu run, the set will ship to Mok’s Opera Hong Kong, then on to Milwaukee and then Vancouver.

This will be Mok’s eighth performance with HOT, where he’s welcomed in equal amounts for his talent and his jovial spirit.

Verdi’s opera tells the tumultuous story of Don Carlo, the prince of Spain, whose betrothed is married to another man: his own father, the king.

“I play it as a young person, lost in love - and mad,” Mok says.

He jokingly bemoans the fact that the tenor in Don Carlo works incredibly hard while getting none of the applause-grabbing famous arias.

“Still, there are many beautiful duets and trios in this opera,” he says. “It’s a pure per canto showy piece. If you like opera for the singing, you should not miss this opportunity to listen to the pure human voice, without microphone, not amplified, not electronic but natural, human voices.”

It’s the very thing that snatched Mok away from accounting all those years ago.

Hawaii Opera Theatre presents “Don Carlo” Friday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Next up is Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Feb. 15, 17, 19.

The HOT season concludes with Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Feb. 29 and March 2 and 4. Unlike the first two, which are sung in Italian, “R&J” is sung in French.

Tickets can be purchased by calling the HOT box office at 596-7858 or 1-800-836-7372, or online at

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