Monday, 26 July 2010

MOZART'S THE MAGIC FLUTE / Singapore Lyric Opera / Review

Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre
Friday (23 July 2010)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 26 July 2010.

The Singapore Lyric Opera’s new production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) attempted to transplant its original setting from Egypt of antiquity to the tropical climes of Southeast Asia. As a visual spectacle, there was much to recommend, from Nicholas Li’s simple but effective stage settings to stunning costumes by Phylia Poh, which were zanily eclectic.

Where in Southeast Asia were we? Anywhere between Bali, Malacca, Angkor, Bangkok or the South Pacific it seems. The storyline of good versus evil concocted by Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder was so universal as to be yet another variation in the epic Ramayana, one well exploited by director Justin Way.

Many in the principal cast of La Boheme, SLO’s last production, made a welcome return. Kota Murakami’s Tamino and Nancy Yuen’s Pamina were largely credible in roles younger than their natural ages, eliciting a good chemistry together, even if the latter struggled with intonation in her aria Ach, ich fühl’s.

Papageno with his new found love Papagena.
Because the production’s Singspiel form alternated German musical numbers with English dialogue, some singers – notably the Korean Song Kee Chang as Papageno - were let down by their English pronunciation. The Singaporeans, such as Yee Ee Ping (as an imperious 1st Lady among three) and Martin Ng (a much-too-young and rather stiff Sarastro), were impeccable in their received pronunciation. All this made for an uneasy mix with differing language abilities, one inevitable with an all-Asian cast singing for an English speaking audience.

Tai Hsiao Chun's Queen of the Night
Another problem was the disparity of ages. Tai Hsiao Chun’s Queen of the Night appeared younger than her daughter Pamina. The diminutive Taiwanese also did not look the part until she whipped off her showpiece coloratura Die Hölle Racht with much aplomb.

A gay Monostatos trying to look lecherous.

It was the comic element that drove the opera along, preventing it from sagging in its length. Song’s irrepressible Papageno and Lemuel dela Cruz’s bumbling and gay Monostatos were hammy to the hilt. More than a few smiles were raised by the three cherubic Genii, sung by Laura Rogers, Ong Jean Wei and Azura Farid from the SLO Children’s Choir. The choir scenes, although brief, contributed positively to the sense of occasion.

The three Genii with Papageno.
Conductor Alice Farnham brought out the best from the SLO Orchestra, with its well-timed Masonic fanfares from the woodwinds and brass, and excellent flautist Wang Tong in the titular role. Almost twenty years after its first production, coincidentally The Magic Flute but at the now-closed Kallang Theatre, the Singapore Lyric Opera has created a legacy much to be proud of.
The sun rises on the final scene.

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