Thursday, 27 March 2014

MOZART Bastien und Bastienne / NAFA Music Department

MOZART Bastien und Bastienne
NAFA Music Department
Lee Foundation Theatre
Wednesday (26 March 2014)

Want to hear some opera for free? You won’t go far wrong by attending the occasional production by the Music Department of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, produced and performed by its students. This evening was the first of two performances of Mozart’s single-act opera Bastien und Bastienne, composed when the musical prodigy was only twelve.

This wasn’t even his first opera for that matter. La Finta Semplice was the first, but it was dropped by its would-be performers. Under the sponsorship of Viennese physician and hypnotist Franz Mesmer (from whom the word “mesmerise” arose), Bastien and Bastienne was first produced and performed in the good doctor’s garden in 1768. Just involving three singers and lasting about an hour, it provided some worthwhile entertainment then as it did this evening. There were about a hundred people in the audience, including a fair number of children, but they were all ears in its simple but engaging drama.

The “orchestra” was provided by pianist Jeremy Wong, a sensitive and most steady accompanist in this pastoral love comedy. The role of shepherdess Bastienne was sung by soprano Yin Yue (Su Yiwen would play the role on the second evening), whose bell-like clarity in the arias, easily hitting the notes of the higher registers, was a particular pleasure.

Her love interest Bastien, ably helmed by tenor Jeremy Koh, was equal to the task and their chemistry quite believable. The intervening dialogue was in English (rather than German), and this was where Yin could work on her PRC-accented English which sometimes rendered the words garbled. Opposite them, veteran baritone William Lim (a member of the voice faculty) was his usual unflappable self as the soothsayer Colas, who helps bring the couple together. Surtitles were employed, but these were in a form of synopses rather than transliterations, but helped in explaining what was happening on stage.

What of the music? Early Mozart is still Mozart, with its freshness of melodic invention and keen allying of lyricism with dramatic action. The short prelude piqued with a theme that looked forward to Beethoven’s opening Eroica melody, composed more than three decades later. Some arias could be heard as prototypes of the great melodies to be heard in the Mozart-da Ponte operas of the near future. More importantly, it was the lightness and the treatment that enthralled and enthused.

The semi-staged production directed by Andy Pang was effective in conveying the emotions without much fuss, and the use of a sheep puppet (operated by Su Yiwen this evening) lent an endearing touch of bucolic humour that was most apt.

An hour passed ever so swiftly, and there was not enough time for the children in the audience to get restless. The applause for an evening’s good work was enthusiastic and encouraging, and it is hoped that more short operas, or scenes of longer stage works be presented in this informal and unstuffy manner. That would be just the right kind of outreach needed to bring new audiences to opera, still considered by some to be a niche market in Singapore.   

There is a second show of Bastien and Bastienne this evening at 8 pm, at the Lee Foundation Theatre of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Su Yiwen is this evening's soprano. Admission is free. 

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