Monday, 16 November 2015


Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (13 November 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 November 2015 with the title "A rousing celebration of opera".

For a national opera company that had humble beginnings as mere opera enthusiasts from the National University of Singapore Society, the Singapore Lyric Opera has achieved amazing results over its 25 years. The major impediment to further untold successes has been a chronic lack of funds for what is often considered as a niche artform.

Its 25th anniversary gala concert was a fond retrospective of past repertoire, cramming excerpts from 20 operas into almost three hours. A minute's silence was observed in memory of founding chairman Leow Siak Fah, Singapore's Mr Opera - tenor-director-impresario rolled into one – who passed away in April.  

Conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan, whom the company had groomed from his student days, the Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra played sensitive and sympathetic accompanist to the arias, duets and ensembles. The Overtures to Mozart's The Magic Flute and Johann Strauss Jr's Die Fledermaus opened each half, and it was left for the glory of the voice to take over.

There were five singers on show, led by ageless veteran soprano Nancy Yuen whose rendition of Sempre libera from Verdi's La Traviata still sends tingles down the spine for seemingly effortless coloratura and over-reaching high notes. Opposite her was the Korean Lee Jae Wook who sang the heroic tenor roles which Leow specialised in including Rodolfo (Puccini's La Boheme) and Cavaradossi (Puccini's Tosca). He also had the audience in his palm nailing Calaf's aria Nessun dorma (Puccini's Turandot) with fearless gusto.

Together, the starry couple's love duets from La Boheme and Madama Butterfly were high points of the evening. Korean baritone Song Kee Chang helmed the “fun” roles, taunting the bull in Escamillo's Toreador Song (Bizet's Carmen) and hamming Figaro perfectly for Largo al factotum (Rossini's The Barber of Seville), bringing out much cheers.

It was left for two Singaporean singers to fill in mezzo-soprano and baritone parts. Anna Koor was excellent in Faites–lui mes aveux from Gounod's Faust, while Martin Ng made a good case for Tonio's opening aria Si puo from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. The late Leong Yoon Pin's Bunga Mawar made the list, with the duet Can I Believe The Sentiment Of Song sung by Ng and Yuen.

The SLO Chorus, augmented by children and choirs from National & Pioneer Junior Colleges and Evokx, stood  150-strong, the biggest ever assembled for such a concert. They impressed with their enthusiasm in Les Voici (Carmen), Mascagni's Easter Hymn (Cavalleria Rusticana) and Verdi's Anvil Chorus (Il Trovatore).

The concert closed passionately with the Quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto (Yuen, Koor, Lee and Song) and the entire cast toasted the proceedings with the Brindisi (Drinking Song) from La Traviata. The latter was encored, now sung with greater volume, which ensured nothing less than a standing ovation.  

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