Sunday, 31 January 2010

PUCCINI'S LA BOHEME by Singapore Lyric Opera / Review

Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre
Friday (29 January 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 February 2010.

No matter how many times one encounters Puccini’s verismo opera La Bohème, it never fails to engage the emotions and senses. The story, its characters and Puccini’s music all contribute to “making it stick”. The Singapore Lyric Opera’s third production of the veritable tear-jerker had most if not all the ingredients for a memorable 5-evening run.

Director Andrew Sinclair brought the setting a century ahead to Paris of the Depression years. The Bohemians’ garret, simply but splendidly designed by Priscil Poh, sported steel girders with rivets and was suitably grubby. Even the outdoor Café Momus scene allowed a vista of the Eiffel Tower in the background.

The plot of youth, poverty, love and loss however remained eternal and universal. Central to this was soprano Nancy Yuen’s (left) sympathetic Mimi. She has lost none of her youthful ardour and vocal purity over the years, totally capable of portraying a role half her age convincingly. Her distinctive timbre has become almost synonymous with Singapore opera itself.

Opposite her was Kota Murakami (left) as Rodolfo whose pleasant and bright tone was complementary, even if it was not the biggest on the tenement block. That belonged to Song Kee Chang’s angst-filled Marcello who was the glue that united the principal cast. His paramour Musetta, sung by Kristin Symes, had great physical presence as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike but limited by a miniscule voice in her Waltz Aria.

Singaporeans William Lim and Martin Ng sand their respective parts as the landlord cum sugar daddy and Colline with credit, with the latter having a shining moment in the “Overcoat” Aria of Act Four. An animated Brent Allcock as Schaunard completed the male foursome that bubbled with close camaraderie.

There were many musical highpoints. The love duet of Act One and the chorus-crowd scenes of Act Two that threatened to spill out over the stage were among them. However Act Three with the lovers reunited at the Barrier Gate held the most poignancy, reflected against the violent parting of Marcello and Musetta that resembled scenes from The Godfather.

The SLO Orchestra conducted by Wang Ya-Hui (left, incidentally the first woman to conduct an SLO production) supported marvelously with concertmaster Seah Huan Yuh’s violin solos a particular pleasure. If only the surtitles were this well coordinated; the sudden and heartbreaking entrance of a pale and ashen-faced Mimi in the final act was spoilt by the surtitles coming on too soon.

That the Singapore Lyric Opera has been able to mount a production of this quality on a shoestring budget is itself a remarkable achievement. Its future productions - The Magic Flute and Salomé – look very inviting indeed.

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