Monday, 16 March 2009

Singapore Lyric Opera's Les Contes D'Hoffmann: Review

Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre
Friday (13 March 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 March 2009.

It was refreshing to see the Singapore Lyric Opera steer clear from the Carmen-Boheme-Traviata axis of deadly popular operas to venture into something quite different. Jacques Offenbach’s Le Contes D’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) is not exactly esoteric, but in the Singapore context, it represented a step into the unknown.

Without taking risks and flexing creative muscles as it did in past productions, the company transported a ready-made French production from Opera de Nice, complete with lead tenor, conductor, costumes and sets. It was a compromise that mostly paid off, although it saw rising Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang getting unceremoniously ditched despite earlier publicity, in a quite avoidable faux pas involving two of Singapore’s premier arts groups.

French tenor Luca Lombardo sang an excellent Hoffmann, the German polymath dogged with women problems, essentially the root of his “tales”. His ardour, frustration and inebriation were convincingly portrayed by one who actually looked the part. This would have been inconsequential if not the well-balanced all-Asian cast that supported him.

Korean bass Song Kee Chang, Hoffmann’s nemesis in all his evil personas, was a commanding presence throughout. His snarl, ranging from comical (Lindorf looked to like Count Dracula without fangs) to truly menacing (Dr Miracle’s deathly machinations), provided the near-perfect antithesis to mezzo Choo Hi-Myung’s reassuring Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s muse and confidante.

The automaton Olympia (Zhao Yunhong)
with her creator Coppelius (Lemuel de la Cruz).

Three very different sopranos played the lost loves of Hoffmann in the three central acts. Zhao Yunhong stole the show with the robotic Olympia’s coloratura aria Les oiseaux dans la charmille, reinforced with lurching moves and an aborted attempt at a lap dance.

Nancy Yuen, who has made a career with dying divas, evinced most sympathy with Antonia’s fatal arias, notably Elle a fui, la tourterelle. Although there were occasional pitch issues, her big notes rang out radiantly. Finally Anna Koor’s courtesan Giulietta was suitably slutty, her Amsterdam shop window moves almost overshadowing her part in the famous Barcarolle, Belle nuit. Not bad for a pastor’s wife.
French Director Pierre Emile Fourny lent a healthy dose of the absurd. Where Hoffmann was supposed to be wearing magic lenses that blinded him to Olympia’s artifice, he had the entire chorus donning sunglasses and spotting white canes. The sets were kept simple, with curtains, turntable and symbolic centrepieces, a hollow doll’s head, a Venetian gondola and a gramophone player. A small matter of fact: the latter was a 20th century invention, certainly not one from Hoffmann or Offenbach’s time.

The SLO orchestra conducted by Benjamin Pionnier provided alert and responsive accompaniment from the pit, with its numerous wind solos deliciously delivered. There were opening night hiccoughs for certain, like surtitles going AWOL and backstage crew making unscheduled appearances on stage, but none that diminished the overall vision of a quirkily conceived but largely enjoyable production.

1 comment:

wincent said...

It's enlightening to see that the arts scene in singapore is improving. We were so wayback 5 years ago. Right now, there just seems to be a huge number of singapore tourist attractions. Both the locals and tourists are all benefiting