Saturday, 30 November 2013

VIVA VERDI! / Bellepoque / Review

Esplanade Recital Studio
Thursday (28 November 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 September 2013 with the title "Operatic entertainment".

The third concert this year celebrating the bicentenary of Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi’s birth was undertaken by Bellepoque, an enterprising local group specialising in light musical theatre. Unlike the large-scaled productions by the Singapore Lyric Opera and Singapore Symphony Orchestra, this was salon concert of arias, duets and choruses modestly accompanied by piano.

Five operas were represented, with highlights performed in mostly chronological order. With popular numbers interspersed with the less familiar, the arrangement worked well if not for the variability of the singers. Veterans appeared alongside relative novices, and the marked disparity of abilities was sometimes all too obvious.

La Traviata (1853) opened the show with the popular Brindisi (Drinking Song) sung by the full ensemble of seven singers. It was misfortune that tenor Edwin Cruz (Philippines) had to lead, as he could barely keep in time. The empty champagne flutes the singers pretended to drink from seemed symbolic, as the performance lacked fizz.

The role of Violetta was shared by sopranos Angela Cortez (Philippines) and Sabrina Zuber (Italy), in Un di felice and Addio del passato / Parigi o cara respectively. Both were competent enough, and the transformation of the courtesan from a picture of health to frailty was very believable. Opposite them was Singaporean tenor Shaun Lee’s Alfredo, whose raw and desperate heroics in this highly demanding part was reminiscent of the legendary and now-retired Leow Siak Fah.

Baritone William Lim (Singapore) was his usual unflappable self in Germont’s aria Provenza il mar, easily the most convincing moment of the segment. He and soprano Satsuki Nagatome (Japan) united in A tal colpa e nulla il pianto from Un Ballo In Maschera or The Masked Ball (1859) gave the best duet of the evening, with passion now in full flow.

Nagatome in Ritorna Vincitor! from Aida (1871) also provided the single most arresting aria of all, spitting the words with true fervour and vehemence. Contrast this with the struggling Cruz in Celeste Aida, who never quite hit the high notes and whose final last gasp was achieved by falsetto rather than full voice. It was a small mercy that the great closing duet of Aida and Radames was not on the programme.

From Verdi’s last opera Falstaff (1893) came Fenton’s little aria Dal labbro il canto, sung with sensitivity and finesse by tenor Brendan-Keefe Au (Singapore), clearly someone who knows where his strengths lie. The concert ended with the famous Hebrew slaves’ chorus Va Pensiero from Nabucco (1842), where unison singing sometimes eluded the men.

Pianist Vincent Chen dutifully filled in for the indisposed Robert Casteels in accompaniment, and Thomas Manhart’s conceptualisation was narrated with engaging humour in Italian-accented English by actress Alessandra Fel. A mixed bag, to be sure, for a fair evening’s entertainment.    

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