Monday, 14 September 2015


Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre
Friday (11 September 2015)

This review was published by The Straits Times on 14 September 2015 with the title "Delightful tales of a jealous clown and a witty rogue".

There is a popular title in operatic parlance known as Cav-Pag, which refers to the double bill of verismo operas, the tandem of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggiero Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. Singapore Lyric Opera's latest recent double bill dropped the Cav component, opting instead for Puccini's single-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi, part of his trilogy known as Il Trittico.

This switch made for a lighter and less depressing evening, where not every lead character gets killed. Director Tom Hawkes cleverly linked the two operas with the common setting of a disused Italian theatre in the post-Second World War period for Pagliacci and then moving backwards in time for Schicchi.

It was a quite seamless transition which worked well because of an excellent cast which had some members singing in both operas. Central to these was Korean tenor Lee Jae Wook, a SLO regular, who gave a gripping portrayal of the homicidally jealous clown Canio in Pagliacci, and then helming the smaller role of young suitor Rinuccio in Schicchi.

Opposite him was Japanese soprano Sachiko Ito who was a sympathetic and free-spirited Nedda (Canio's actress wife), who gets offed by the opera's end, and then reappearing as the conniving Nella in Schicchi. The tightly cast Pagliacci also featured Singaporean baritones William Lim and Martin Ng, who acquitted themselves well as the vengeful hunchback Tonio and Nedda's ill-fated lover Silvio.

Schicchi was dominated by British baritone Adrian Clarke (above) in the title role, a worldly-wise rogue who cons a fussy Florentine family of its inheritance with a classic bait-and-switch. A combination of wit and smarminess made him likeable, gaining the audience to his side with every twist and turn in his scheming.

The SLO Chorus and Children's Chorus were well-trained for the crowd scenes of Pagliacci, adding much colour to the production. The SLO Orchestra conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan supported the music well. It was a revelation to hear both opera's “hit single” arias, often heard in isolation at opera galas, within their original contexts.

Canio's highly anguished Vesti La Giubba, sung as the lead clown dons his make-up and attire, was arresting in Lee's scene-stealing account. Similarly, Lauretta's O Mio Babbino Caro (O My Beloved Father) in Schicchi, sung as a daughter pleads for her father's intervention in the matters of love was beautifully delivered by young New Zealander soprano Marlena Devoe (below).

The set design by Christopher Chua with draped columns and pillars was simple and effective, as were Moe Kassim's costumes even though the GI uniforms in Pagliacci's looked like those of boy scouts. Despite SLO's constrained budget limitations, which allows the company only one major production a year, it offered very good value for its efforts.

That has been a given through the years. However judging from the smallish audience spread through three evenings, notwithstanding General Election weekend, is this a bad omen for the future of opera performance in Singapore?

All photographs by courtesy of Singapore Lyric Opera.

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