Monday, 10 February 2014

VOICES OF BRILLIANCE / Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts 2014 / Review

Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts 2014 
Esplanade Concert Hall 
Saturday (8 February 2014) 

This review was published in The Straits Times on 10 February 2014 with the title "Brilliant vocals at a more intimate show".

After the good notices from last year’s Voices Of Splendour concert at the Huayi Festival, this year’s fixture was scaled down significantly but no less successful. Most glaring for an opera highlights concert was the absence of an orchestra. In its place was the lone figure of Shane Thio, still Singapore’s finest and busiest collaborative pianist.

In his usual best to support the three Chinese singers, Thio actually convinced that the luxury of an orchestra was just that, a luxury. His steadiness, sensitivity and versatility allowed the voices to shine, and there was no way they would be drowned out. Already plying their trade in the world’s great opera houses, the threesome was excellent in a selection of Chinese art songs and Western operatic arias.

Returning was statuesque mezzo-soprano Zhu Huiling, whose opening song Homesickness by Huang Zi possessed a soothing serenade-like quality. The more dramatic Anzoleta avanti la Regata by Rossini was well projected, and further theatricality was provided with the scintillating Chanson Boheme from Bizet’s Carmen, an apt follow-on to last year’s offerings of the Seguidilla and Habanera.  

The more compactly built Soprano Yu Guanqun impressed with how she could build up from the hush of intimacy to a sonic boom in the highest registers. She did so effortlessly in Mozart’s Come scoglio (Cosi Fan Tutte) and Leonora’s aria Tacea la notte placida (Il Trovatore). The Chinese romances Yearning For My Love and I Live by the Headwaters of the Yangtze were also beautifully crafted.

Baritone Shenyang, winner of the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, appeared to be the crowd-pleaser. His easy, almost leisurely, way with Leporello’s Catalogue Aria (Mozart’s Don Giovanni) in recounting amorous conquests, and devilish laughter in Mephistopheles’s Vous que faites l’endormie (Gounod’s Faust) were the key. In Zhao Yuanren’s How Could I Not Miss Her, he exhibited a very fine control that was both touching and sincere.

There were no duets, instead trios including Mozart’s Soave sia il vento, the voices blending nicely in almost the perfect sneak preview to the Singapore Lyric Opera’s production of Cosi Fan Tutte later this month. In Qu Cong’s I Love You, China and John Ordway’s Farewell, each had individual lines to sing before coming together in unison. Closing with a sort of party joke, the trio united for the quintessential tenor aria, Puccini’s Nessun Dorma (Turandot), as if to show that no tenors were being missed tonight. 

The encores brought the house down. The first had both ladies re-enacting Rossini’s Cat Duet around the silent and bemused baritone. The second was unaccompanied, the familiar Inner Mongolian folksong Mu Ge (Pastorale) in Huang Ruo’s nostalgic and spine-tingling arrangement. More of the same next year, please.    

Photograph courtesy of Esplanade Theatre by the Bay.

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