Saturday, 26 October 2013


Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (24 October 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 26 October 2013 with the title "Concert of Verdi highlights a success".

Following hot on the heels of a successful La Traviata, the Singapore Lyric Opera celebrated Giuseppe Verdi’s birth bicentenary with a two-hour long concert of operatic highlights. Given that just five of the great Italian’s operas have ever been performed in Singapore, the eleven represented this evening seemed impressive, but this was just the uppermost tip of a gigantic undiscovered iceberg.

There was a goodly mix of the familiar and the less familiar, but all the qualities that made Verdi great – lyricism, dramatics and expert settings of words - were delved upon. Conductor Darrell Ang gave a brief introduction on the legacy, and then let the music sing for itself. It was a pity that the usual brief synopses of the arias and characters were not included in the programme booklet. That would have given the audience a better understanding of the contexts of each item presented.

The quartet of two locally-based and two Australian singers was generally well cast. Of the latter, tenor Jason Wasley exuded an easy and laid-back charm in the well-known De miei bollenti spiriti (La Traviata) and Quando le sere al placido (Luisa Miller) without fully extending himself. Baritone Christopher Hillier struggled somewhat to overcome the orchestra in an aria from Attila, but exhibited both emotion and fine control in Giorgio Germont’s ballad Di provenza il mar from La Traviata. Together, both voices blended very idiomatically in the duet Solenne in quest’ora from La Forza del Destino.

Mezzo-soprano Anna Koor, usually a coquettish presence, was given pitifully small parts. She made most of the bel canto melody, however brief, in Oh, dichiuso e il firmamento (Nabucco), but the onomatopoeic and drumming beat in Rataplan (La Forza) with the chorus was underwhelming.  

That leaves soprano Jessica Chen (above, with conductor Darrell Ang), head of voice at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, who completely stole the show. Remembered for her chilling portrayal of Turandot  in 2008,  she brought a wondrous range and intensity to the recitative and aria of Ecco l’orrido campo (Un Ballo in Maschera), her perfect intonation and emotional heft carried into Pace, pace, mio Dio (La Forza). She garnered the loudest cheers, and deservedly so. And if one wondered if claques existed in Singapore, they most certainly do.

The Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra has improved vastly over the years in terms of sensitivity and instrumental prowess, which showed in purely orchestral numbers from La Forza, I Vespri Siciliani and Aida.  The small choir of 25 women’s voices (men are a particularly rare resource here) coped well in the Witches Chorus from Macbeth.

The four solo voices came together mellifluously for the marvellous Quartet from Rigoletto and that indestructible Brindisi (Drinking Song) from La Traviata which closed the concert. Taken at an all-too-leisurely pace, that built-in encore was itself encored, the second time at a slightly more champagne-infused mood which brought on a standing ovation.

All photographs courtesy of Singapore Lyric Opera.

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