Friday, 5 August 2011

RICHARD STRAUSS'S SALOME COMES TO SINGAPORE! / A Few Words with Ng Siew Eng, Singapore Lyric Opera General Manager

Esplanade Theatre, 8 pm
19,20, 22, & 23 August 2011
Tickets available at SISTIC

NG SIEW ENG, General Manager of Singapore Lyric Opera was interviewed for this piece about the Singapore Lyric Opera's landmark production of Richard Strauss's Salome.

At long, long last. The Singapore Lyric Opera has finally decided to move in a new direction by producing an opera outside of the familiar Mozart-Verdi-Puccini axis. But why Richard Strauss’s controversial opera Salome?

Why not? The Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) is a professional opera company and we have produced the most popular repertoire operas, as you have rightly pointed out. Richard Strauss’s Salome is already a staple of the world’s major opera companies. We are no exception. We also believe in extending the breath and depth of opera appreciation in Singapore by expanding our repertoire beyond the Mozart-Verdi-Puccini axis. It is also a very interesting opera and its lure is something we find hard to resist!

Briefly, could you tell our readers what is the big fuss about Salome?

It is challenging in many ways to stage this opera – both musically and financially - that people often wonder why do we want to do it at all. Given our limited resources, this would be the second most costly production the SLO has staged to date, after Puccini’s Turandot in 2009. However it is our belief that SLO must be able to undertake great works, beyond the lollipops of the repertoire that our audiences so love.

People have been talking about it from the minute the news came out that SLO was staging Salome. Musicians were sceptical and many people were aghast! SLO was so brave to even think about it! We are all very excited that the cast and orchestra are now involved in one of the most challenging opera scores ever written. We are proud to have Andrew Sinclair (left) from the Royal Opera House Covent Garden to direct and Janice Watson to sing the titular role.

You are also casting some heavyweights for the leading roles. Who are they?

Yes indeed. Besides Janice Watson (left), we have been very blessed to have some best vocal talents from the United Kingdom and Australia to be on this production. Hubert Francis is King Herod and Dawid Kimberg is Jokanaan; both are from the Royal Opera House London Covent Garden. We also have Bernadette Cullen from Australia. Its such an exciting cast helmed by conductor Peter Selwyn and assistant conductor Timothy Carey. For the orchestra, we have assembled the best orchestral players outside the Singapore Symphony Orchestra to be the SLO Orchestra.

Could you share with us some of the insights adopted by Director Andrew Sinclair?

Andrew Sinclair says: I really don't see Salome as a homicidal killer. If you look at the text and at the Oscar Wilde play she is definitely not portrayed that way. Neither Wilde nor Richard Strauss wanted her to be seen in that light. What happens is the result of her upbringing in a decadent atmosphere with a dysfunctional mother and stepfather. You could consider her a victim. She certainly deserves our pity.

Salome was definitely a shocking opera, by 1905 standards. Does it still have the shock factor in 2011?

Andrew Sinclair says: No, I don't think it is so shocking any longer. Society mostly has become very liberal. People could see something comparable to the final scene of Salome in the cinema or on television. I think some people tend to react with horror these days because it is an opera and the opinion is that opera is something "escapist". But opera is often about tragedy and Salome is a tragic figure. I know some people just don't like the subject matter and that is their choice. It's not a pretty piece but it is certainly an exciting one.

Finally, the question on everybody’s mind about Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils. Will she, or will she not… strip?

Why does she have to strip? Yeah, we’ve seen lots of versions that have Salome strip after the last veil comes off. Director Andrew Sinclair does not believe in shock value as it detracts from the music and the story. And we cannot think for a moment that stripping is going to draw the audience but what goes on stage with Salome and her obsession that will draw people to watch Salome.

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