FOR SOPRANO NANCY YUEN
Esplanade Concert Hall
9 November 2018)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 November 2018
Who has been the dominant figure of Western opera in
over the last twenty years? That has to be Hong Kong-born
soprano Nancy Yuen. Being Artistic Director of the Singapore Lyric Opera and
married to SLO Chairman Toh Weng Cheong certainly helped, but that diminishes
the feat of keeping herself fit and in good voice since her 1988 debut with the
Welsh National Opera in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Singapore
Her recent casting as Aida in June was a coup of enviable longevity. Her most famous roles have been of teenaged girls in trouble (Cio Cio San, Violetta, Mimi and Liu, just to name a few) and her true age remains an industry secret. While rumoured that she is well into her sixth decade, nobody that age has the right to perform the way she does.
Her two-hour long concert of operatic bleeding chunks with the SLO Orchestra conducted by Jason Lai provided the clues. She limited the programme to just six roles and was canny not to over-extend herself. One would have loved to hear her Vissi d’Arte (Tosca) and Ritorna vincitor (Aida) but such omissions had to be made.
She began with two arias from Mozart’s The Marriage Of Figaro, Countess Almaviva’s Porgi amor and Dove sono, and these were sung with a seamless legato line, the epitome of rococo refinement. Superb control was also exhibited in the short Signore ascolta, slavegirl Liu’s most famous aria from Puccini’s Turandot.
Then she let it rip with coloratura aplomb in Sempre libera, Violetta’s defiant rant from Verdi’s La Traviata. Her mastery of fast running notes in the highest registers without going astray or skipping a beat was to be simply admired, regardless of age or experience.
The longest segment was devoted to highlights from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which included a purely orchestral intermezzo, the Humming Chorus (with the SLO Choir), a duet and two arias. It was the pure emotional heft displayed in the second aria Un bel di (One Fine Day) that truly tugged on heartstrings.
For a prima donna assoluta’s evening, there was to be no other female singer on stage, Yuen’s limelight was shared only by Korean tenor Lee Jae Wook. One of her most trusted stage partners, he was careful not to steal the show in duets like Parle-moi de ma mere (Bizet’s Carmen), Vogliatemi bene (Madama Butterfly) and O soave fanciulla (Puccini’s La Boheme). Together their blended voices sounded close to perfect.
It was curious to hear the aria Si, mi chiamano Mimi (La Boheme) sung long after the duet it preceded, but that was meant to be an encore, as was the ubiquitous Drinking Song (Brindisi) from La Traviata where the audience was invited to join in. Another curious fact: Nancy Yuen had one costume change less than the jolly master-of-ceremony Marc Rochester, who enlivened the show with a keen sense of humour that kept an otherwise serious evening light and cheery.