Monday, 4 August 2014


Vocal recitals are becoming more regular in Singapore these days given that there are more professional singers in our midst. However the recital by excellent Singaporean baritone MARTIN NG on Friday 8 August 2014 at Esplanade Recital Studio has a difference. It is organised not by an artistic group but by a website and blogger, in this case THE MAD SCENE (Singapore’s only dedicated opera and vocal music blog) and its founder STEVEN ANG, who is also a baritone.

More details about the concert and how to book tickets may be found here:

In the meantime, here is an interview with STEVEN ANG about how a passion about the voice and opera has led a website and blogger into the world of impresario- hood.

Q: Since when has The Mad Scene begun impresario work to present vocal concerts? Is this the first time?

Yes, while I have received many offers to produce short gigs at commercial events, this is the first full-length performance that I am presenting with The Mad Scene! When I came back from Taiwan last September after completing my second Bachelor’s degree in music, I thought seriously about what I wanted to do back in Singapore. In addition to taking the usual teaching and performing route, I thought that it would be great to create a platform for our young professional artists to present themselves in repertoire that best suit their strengths. At the same time Martin Ng was talking to me about presenting a concert of his favourite bel canto arias in Singapore, and that is how we came together to collaborate on this project. Producing concerts for others is something that I'm learning on the job. Hopefully this concert will be the first of many to come.

As a performer, presenting a recital by yourself is very hard work. You have to take care of everything that goes backstage and front-of-house, balancing a million administrative duties in addition to making your show as good as possible. By partnering up with performers whom I feel have a certain marketability and performance ability, I hope to make our performance production more efficient as well as allow the artist to perform at a higher level, thus encouraging audiences to trust us with their show-going experience.

Steven Ang in Rome Opera's production
of Verdi's Aida in Taipei.

Q: Singapore's vocal and opera scene has finally begun to expand. We now have three opera companies (to use the term somewhat loosely) and lots of budding singers studying and plying their trade overseas, and some returning. Do you foresee a renaissance of vocal arts in the years to come?

I don't think I am in a position to be a spokesperson for the broader arts scene. As an audience member I certainly agree that there are more choices available now. I do see more artists stepping forward to present a great variety of programme. Whether there is an audience for our shows is another matter. It would be nice to see more collaborations between actively performing artists. 

There is potentially a reasonably large audience base as there are numerous choirs of different sizes and repertoire as well as the voice students of our many performer-teachers, all of whom are to some extent familiar with the vocal arts. I think that we have no shortage of onstage participants. It would be nice if they can give other events a try too. Social media helps a lot of course, making it easier for information to be shared amongst each other. Having said that, I don't know if audience numbers have increased at all, but I'm sure that existing audiences have more choices available now, both to watch and to participate in. 

Q: Which is more difficult, singing an operatic role or doing a recital? And why?

I think both aspects present different challenges. A recital requires less resources and logistical coordination, and you are only working with a pianist or small ensemble. But it is an extremely intimate way of performing, relying solely on the performer's ability to capture the audience's imagination. It is unfortunate that most musicians have to accumulate solo performance by doing recitals, as in a way it is starting off on the deep end.

On the other hand, rehearsing for opera in a group of singers plus chorus and orchestra can be a nightmare, both artistically and logistically. One needs to be fully prepared with his or her music before showing up. If one ensemble member in a group number is unprepared (or is nonchalant about it), the entire progress of the rehearsal will be bogged down. One is also affected by group dynamics and the often politicking between different leaders not unlike those faced by corporate workers. Issues like nepotism, cronyism and simply incompetent leadership will affect the morale of the team. 

One of my first performances was doing plays and musicals with different theatre groups. Rehearsing for a two month period or longer in a close knit setting, it builds a huge sense camaraderie of overcoming all odds together. It is a collective trial by fire experience and everyone leaves feeling like they have made best friends for life. I have yet to have a similar experience in a purely music performance setting, whether its performing solo, with a group of fellow soloists, chamber choir or in a large choral with orchestra setting, and have come to believe it is an experience unique to the theatre. 

But then making music in large groups allows one to experience first hand the genius of great composers. I have always maintained that the best way to know these great masterpieces like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is to perform it yourself. Performing the piece allows you to experience and understand it more than sitting through ten concerts. There is also something quite beautiful about unamplified music making that you simply do not get through recordings. Most people are so used to hearing music from speakers these days, whether it’s recorded or live, that they are just not used to hearing music in a natural acoustic. It is simply a different vibration than what we are used to and the most natural way of appreciating music, it is in many ways a simple yet luxurious experience that unfortunately takes some time to cultivate these days.

So in a good opera that is well put together, with care and love, you get the best of both worlds: the rapport, chemistry and community bonding in a theatre setting and a live, unamplified (or slightly amplified) performance of a masterpiece. Not everyone gets to live in such an experience, so being able to participate in an opera performance is indeed a great honour and responsibility.

Conversely, I believe that a truly great recitalist has to accumulate experience in other forms of performances along the way, whether in related experiences such as opera workshops, oratorio solos or in choirs, or unrelated genres such as theatre and dance. He or she needs to have the ability to recreate a theatrical setting using only his voice, body and imagination. We have seen Martin perform in many SLO productions, he has also worked with numerous choral groups and opera companies in Europe and Asia, so I believe he has what it takes to put on a really great recital.

Q: How else do you see The Mad Scene contributing to the vocal scene in Singapore?

The Mad Scene celebrated its 5th anniversary last September, and I am heartened that so many local performers I have admired extended their congratulations. People often tell me how helpful they found The Mad Scene to be. The SLO too is very supportive of my website. While the initial coverage was mostly about vocal music and opera, my coverage has included numerous other performances. Recent reviews include performances by the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra, T'ang Quartet and just about every major production presented at Marina Bay Sands. As a result a lot more people who attend stage performances are familiar with The Mad Scene and have seen our coverage of vocal and opera events as well. Whether that translates to actual ticket sales is debatable, but I hope that more arts folks of different genres are encouraged to appreciate each other's work on some level.

In addition to this inter-disciplinary cross-breeding, I think The Mad Scene provides a sort of documentary record of an event, and recommends some personalities that audiences should watch out for. Having said that, I am only one person and sometimes many events slip by my attention, so other websites such as Pianomania and The Flying Inkpot are great avenues for myself to learn more about the local scene too. Every arts performance producer faces the same set of problems: lack of audiences and sponsorship support. It would be nice if we can pool our resources, support each other and even share our audience together.

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