Monday, 28 November 2011

THE TALES OF LOVE AND DEATH / Singapore Lyric Opera / Review


Singapore Lyric Opera

Esplanade Concert Hall

Friday (25 November 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 November 2011 with the title "Love, death and sympathy for a courtesan".

The combo of love and death, inseparable as Siamese twins, was the subject of the Singapore Lyric Opera’s annual gala, but there was to be no Tristan or Isolde. Given that the tradition of performing Wagner is close to non-existent here, the tried and tested Puccini verismo operas were among the unsurprising offerings.

Why not, as the music has popular appeal and there are no shortage of good singers in this repertoire. The usual stars who have graced SLO’s productions returned, and all three were in superb voice and form. The ageless soprano Nancy Yuen (left) was the chief protagonist with bleeding chunks from her signature roles in Tosca and La Bohème.

Nobody here does dying consumptive divas better, except in this case Floria Tosca leaps to her demise rather than wastes away. Her duet Mario, Mario, Mario (Tosca) with Korean tenor Lee Jae Wook (left) simmered and then sizzled, aglow with the anticipation of a late night tryst. The famous sequence in La Bohème which begins with Rodolfo’s Che gelida manina and closing with O soave fanciulla also sported the chemistry which has made this pairing a very special one. So far no deaths.

It was in the final moments of Massenet’s Thaïs, with Korean baritone Song Kee Chang (left), that the tears flowed. Who could not have sympathy for a courtesan turned nun who succumbs, predictably but beautifully, to the strains of the familiar Meditation. For once, that most overplayed of melodies is heard in its proper context.

As a preview to next February’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, highlights were performed, including Yuen and Song in the tender duet La ci darem la mano. Meanwhile Lee, as the roving Don, flirted with a lady in the audience in the Window Serenade by way of a rose, and then polished off the Drinking Song.

The SLO Ladies and Children’s Chorus made credible short appearances in Bizet’s Carmen and Verdi’s Macbeth, while the SLO Orchestra conducted by recently conferred Young Artist Award winner Joshua Tan Kangming (left) played rather many minutes of orchestral excerpts. While Puccini’s youthful Symphonic Prelude came off half-baked, there was no denying the passion in the Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut.

The sole encore was, of course, the Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata, which had all three soloists toasting the audience. One would have hoped for more singing in the two hour long concert, but it was the quality rather than quantity that truly mattered.

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