Monday, 31 January 2011


Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (29 January 2010)

This review was published by The Straits Times
on 31 January 2011 with the title
"Russell Watson's syrupy love-in"

Let’s make one thing clear: Russell Watson, marketed as “The Voice”, is no opera singer. An opera singer learns, internalises and sings full roles, such as Don Jose, Cavaradossi and Calaf, acts and interacts with fellow singers, and projects his voice naturally in a hall without the help of amplification.

Having said that, people come to a Russell Watson gig not to hear a sermon, nor be enlightened, but to be entertained. On that count, his Singapore debut was a massive success. The likeability factor, boosted by good looks, working class background and his recovery from brain tumours, was high, despite being a professed Manchester United fan (who are by and large an annoying, smug and self-congratulatory lot).

The programme was typical of crossover fare - operatic arias and hymns sitting comfortably alongside popular songs and numbers from musicals and movies. His voice heavily amplified until the ears ached, Watson sounded comfortable in standards like O Sole Mio, Franck’s Panis Angelicus and Schubert’s Ave Maria, emoting much in the easy way that Pavarotti and company used to do.

He chatted to the audience casually in between songs, even dedicating to his late grandmother the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, sung to the words of Ave Maria in Italian. Doesn’t everything sound better and more romantic in Italian, a language with many vowels? This was applied brilliantly to Io che non vivo (You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me) and Parla piu piano (Speak Softly Love). “Amore” definitely beats “lurve”.

Watson also got his listeners involved, shaking hands as they chanted the echoes of Volare and clapping along to Denza’s Funiculi Funicula. The charmer also substituted the words of I Left My Heart In San Francisco to that of Sunny Singapore, much to the audience’s delight. This love-in just got even more syrupy as the evening continued, one to send any diabetic into ketoacidotic coma.

Time and space was afforded for the appropriately named young local Melodie Tan, whose slender soprano voice, well-honed for Broadway musicals, joined Watson in David Foster’s The Prayer. She then gingerly brought out O mio babbino caro (Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi), clearly a work in progress.

The evening was accompanied by the Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by the highly animated Robert Emery, which filled in with movie music by John Williams and Ennio Morricone amongst others.

Puccini’s Nessun dorma (Turandot) closed the evening, and three encores including Leoncavallo’s La Mattinata and Elvis sent the sold-out hall into a standing frenzy. To say one and all enjoyed themselves, including this crotchety old soul, would be understatement itself. If only one could get the heaving throng into Singapore Lyric Opera productions to witness some real opera.
RUSSELL WATSON La Voce was presented by Esplanade Theatres on the Bay.

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