Thursday, 24 February 2011

A HONG KONG DIARY (20-22 February 2011) / Part III

Tuesday, 22 February

I have a lunch appointment with Dr Anabella Freris of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong, but it was more bargain CD hunting in Central before that. Naxos CDs are the cheapest when you buy them in Hong Kong. At HKD 45-49 (just about eight dollars and below) per disc, its about half the price of that you find in Singapore. My favourite little shop is Percival Records (35 Wing Kut Street), another thoroughly disorganised (but in a neat way) hole in a wall tucked in a tiny alley filled with pushcart stalls and shops. Run by a family, establishments like this in Singapore have long gone the way of the dodo. Remember the friendly Sing Music in Lucky Plaza? I have patronised Percival Records since 1990, when it was distinctly musty but had the cheapest classical discs in town. It is still very competitive (compared with the behemoths of HMV, HK Records and Music Warehouse), and credit cards are now accepted. No guilt in blowing a thousand dollars (HK currency) here.

If HK and Singapore are competing on the subject of which is the more vibrant city, the former still leads. Lunch at IFC at a bistro overlooking Kowloon’s new skyline (soon to resemble Manhattan’s after the height restriction was removed) was a case in point. Everthing seemed so “happening”, a buzz which I’ve never felt at home. Maybe I’m biased, as I have yet to have lunch at the Marina Bay Sands.

Trying to look optimistic in making a sale.

Now what do I do with that extra Cecilia Bartoli ticket? Fortunately the concert is fully sold out. I approached the Arts Festival Counter, and the girl says: leave the ticket with us, and we’ll let you know tomorrow if its been sold. Tomorrow? And with no guarantee of a sale? No thanks. I try my luck and stand in front of the booth, in the hope that some poor desperate soul might want to part with HKD 1280 right now. The irony is striking. Two days ago, I was that desperate soul in search of a single spare ticket. Now I’m a different desperate soul trying to recoup the expense of that ticket.

A Brit looks interested but he buys from a young Hongkonger who has a spare HKD 300 ticket. At any rate, he does not have the cash, only plastic. A PRC sniffs around, complains its too expensive, and then says he’ll try and get a complimentary ticket from the sponsors HSBC. “Good luck to you, and sod off!” I thought. Just as I was about to be resigned to having the singular most expensive ticket (HKD 2360) in the house, a Frenchman pops up to the counter and inquires. I step forward and “voila!” a swap is effected, your money for my ticket. And he does not attempt to bargain me down. He didn't appear that desperate either. Didn't I say that all Frenchman were classy?

O mia Cecilia! Whatever you have heard on disc or seen on TV, Cecilia Bartoli is exactly that plus some more. Larger than life and donning a stunning red gown, she looks every bit the diva, artist and entertainer all rolled up in one. The programme was straight forward – Italian and French songs accompanied by Sergio Ciomei’s piano. No opera, just art songs from the pens of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. Love lost and found, flora and fauna, and the pleasures of a simple peasant life, were all encompassed in these numbers. Bartoli sounded fresh and each song sparkled with life. Her vividness of articulation, which ranged from the most quiet and intimate of moments to full-blooded roars, was just as impressive.

From bel canto to can belto, Bartoli has the full measure of every number. From Donizetti’s tender Amore e morte (Love and death), which certainly must have influenced the most melancholy of Chopin’s Nocturnes, to the presti-ululation of Rossini’s tarantella La Danza, equal satisfaction was to be had. She was equally at home in French, with songs by Rossini, Bizet and Viardot. There was an insectoid song, Bizet’s La coccinelle (The Ladybird), where her buzzing nasal imitations brought out guffaws from an otherwise staid and respectful audience. Closing with Maria Malibran’s drummer-boy inspired Rataplan, she brought the house down. Three encores, by de Curtis, Montsalvatge and Handel’s Laschio la spina, were the icing on the cake.
Will Cecilia Bartoli ever come to Singapore? We’ll have to persuade the powers that be that a proven act such as this is worth presenting, alongside all those new collaborations which are hit or miss at best. While Singapore waits, HKD 1280 was more than well spent.

In Hong Kong, the sky's the limit.

1 comment:

愛寶 said...

Cecilia is great.
I sat right in front of her, and she is a singer that has to be heard and seen live to believe!