Monday, 29 November 2010

20 YEARS OF GRAND OPERA / Singapore Lyric Opera / Review

Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (26 November 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 November 2010.

For a nation with a negligible opera tradition, the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) has achieved a fair bit in its twenty years. Always cash-strapped and operating within wafer-thin budgets, its productions have often been a credit to its pluck and resourcefulness. For its 20th anniversary gala, highlights from twenty operas, operettas and musicals were packed into an eventful and largely enjoyable 160 minutes.

Using a cast that distinguished more recent productions was a wise choice. The faces were more familiar and voices fresher. The most outstanding moments came in love duets, with Singapore’s “First Lady of Opera” Nancy Yuen and Korean tenor Lee Jae Wook providing stellar performances from La Boheme and Madama Butterfly. Both radiated palpable chemistry and genuine sympathy, and one could be led into imagining this was taking place in a major opera house.

The pairing of Taiwanese soprano Jessica Chen and Korean baritone Song Kee Chang was also convincing in Leoncavallo’s E Allor Perche (I Pagliacci), while local mezzo-soprano Anna Koor and Korean soprano Choo Hi-Myung took the gloss to Offenbach’s Barcarolle (The Tales Of Hoffmann).
(From L) Anna Koor, Lemuel dela Cruz, Jessica Chen,
Leow Siak Fah, Yee Ee Ping, Eric Zhu & Nancy Yuen.

Solo arias also produced many moving minutes. London-based soprano Yee Ee Ping in Puccini’s Vissi D’Arte (Tosca) sounded like she meant every word of it. Veteran baritone William Lim was engaging in his opening introduction from I Pagliacci, and Filipino tenor Lemuel dela Cruz valiantly hit the highest notes of the Flower Song (Gounod’s Faust) despite nursing a cold.

Arias from Puccini’s Turandot registered the highest decibels. It seemed strange that Nessun Dorma was sung before In Questa Reggia, out of sequence in the opera, but the reason was soon apparent. Tenor Lee’s predictably heroic Calaf had to take second place to Chen’s ice-cold Turandot, her frightening intensity was one to raise goosebumps and chill blood.

In an effort to be inclusive, there was a nod to Singapore’s first and only opera to date, Leong Yoon Pin’s Bunga Mawar. Yuen and Lim did the honours for the lyrical duet Can I Believe The Sentiment Of Song.

A toast should be raised to Leow Siak Fah, (left) SLO’s founding Chairman who single-handedly bankrolled early productions while casting himself in leading tenor roles. In a final hurrah, he relived an imperious youth in Don Jose (Carmen), Count Danilo (The Merry Widow), Tevye (Fiddler On The Roof) and The Student Prince with great spirit if not in best voice. This septuagenarian businessman will at least go down as the greatest amateur opera singer in Singapore history.
Brindisi (La Traviata) - Let's drink to the SLO!

The SLO Orchestra conducted by Eric Zhu provided excellent support, with concertmaster Foo Say Ming playing several exquisite violin solos, and Marc Rochester dusting cobwebs off Esplanade’s underused Klais organ in excerpts from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. Young voices from the SLO’s three choirs also contributed significantly to the sense of occasion.

As celebrations go, there were three drinking songs, from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, Romberg’s The Student Prince and to close on a high, Verdi’s La Traviata. There should be much to look forward to in SLO’s next twenty years.

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