Monday, 18 February 2013

VOICES OF SPLENDOUR / Huayi Festival 2013 / Review

Huayi Festival 2013
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (15 February 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 February 2013 with the title "Rousing toast to top Chinese voices".

Chinese voices making their names in the world’s major opera houses are no longer a rarity, and this concert was a proud realisation of that fact. No programme was listed prior to the concert, but it turned out to be not far different from the annual galas presented by the Singapore Lyric Opera, but with a generous dose of Chinese art songs in sumptuous orchestrations added into the mix.

The voices were from the top rank of mainland Chinese singers, now plying their trade in western opera houses. Baritone Yuan Chenye (above) is no stranger here, having sung in Beethoven’s Choral Symphony that opened Esplanade Concert Hall at its inauguration in October 2002. He possesses a most expansive and heroic of voices, matched with a theatricality that served Figaro’s aria Largo al factotum from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and the Toreador Aria from Bizet’s Carmen well.

The advertised mezzo-soprano Liang Ning was indisposed on account of a skiing accident, and was replaced at the eleventh hour by Zhu Huiling (above), who was every bit a showstopper. She produced a beautiful tone and oozed dusky sensuality, totally appropriate for the Seguidilla and HabaƱera from Carmen, no doubt aided by her revealing low-cut black gown. 

Making the biggest impression and vocally most interesting was soprano He Hui (above), who opened with a radiant and nuanced account of Puccini’s Un bel di (Madama Butterfly). Her sense of drama was gripping, exerting a steely control for Verdi’s Ritorna vincitor! (Aida) and tugging the heart-strings in Puccini’s poignant Sola, perduta, abbondonata, from the final act of Manon Lescaut, set in the Louisiana wilderness. Unsurprisingly, she received the most vociferous of applause.

There were two duets with Yuan and the ladies. Mozart’s La ci darem la mano (Don Giovanni) and Verdi’s Ciel, mio padre (Aida) with Zhu and He respectively demonstrated the palpable vocal and physical chemistry between the singers.

The Chinese songs, such as Forever Flows the River, Under The Silver Moonlight, Pamir My Beautiful Homeland and Song of Fishermen, were mostly golden oldies, exercises in nostalgia which provided further opportunities for display of vocal prowess.

The Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan provided excellent accompaniment, and had several pieces on its own. Li Huanzhi’s Spring Festival Overture has become a ubiquitous fixture, and Chen Peixun’s Ode to Snow, exuded a pastoral demeanour that might have been mistaken for Vaughan Williams or Delius.

The concert closed with all three singers united in Gu Jianfen’s life-affirming ode That Is I, which got the audience so excited that an encore was demanded. The bubbly was brought out, with the rousing Brindisi (Drinking Song) from Verdi’s La Traviata – exuberant but sounding somewhat unrehearsed - being their just desserts. 

Photographs courtesy of Esplanade Theatres by the Bay.

No comments: