Saturday, 12 March 2016

A NIGHT OF CABARET / NAFA Vocal Studies / Review

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts 
Vocal Studies
Lee Foundation Theatre
Thursday (10 March 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 12 March 2016 with the title "Risque cabaret display".

Cabaret songs form a very specific genre of artsongs, with origins in 1880s Paris at the legendary Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) nightclub of Montmartre. Its clientele included artists, intellectuals and bohemians, and the music spawned was a sophisticated variety of comedy and satire, with double entendres and social commentary as essentials in the mix.

This 80-minute concert by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts' Vocal Studies Department headed by Jessica Chen was an entertaining and educational survey, presenting 18 songs by 17 singers and 8 pianists. Two co-hosts provided context and commentary via corny jokes while visuals and song translations were projected on a screen above.

The journey began in France with two songs by Erik Satie, Je Te Veux (I Want You) sung sentimentally by tenor Kevin Lee, a waltz-song followed by the frivolities of La Diva De L'Empire which had soprano Tan Hui Yen hamming up the part. Theatricality and wit played a large part in the success of cabaret songs, and there were hits and misses along the way.

Soprano Angela Cortez coped with very high registers needed for Francis Poulenc's Violon and was more successful than Liu Gelin in the well-known Les Chemins De L'Amour (The Pathways Of Love), which proved elusive for her studied demeanour and lack of abandon.   

Arnold Schoenberg wrote eight Brettl-Lieder for Ernst von Wolzogen's Berlin-based cabaret theatre Überbrettl, five of which were sung here. Take away the suggestive and saucy German lyrics, and one gets some of the atonalist's most melodious music. Cortez fared better in Galathea (which shockingly had paedophilic lines), and two cross-dressing sopranos Cherie Tse and Sim Weiyang quite convincingly accounted for Gigerlette and Der Genügsame Liebhaber (The Contented Suitor). They were, after all, singing from a gentleman's viewpoint.

Tenor Kee Chun Kiat recounted the “boom boom boom” palpitations of an insatiable lover in Aria from Dem Spiegel Von Arcadien (The Mirror Of Arcadia), while mezzo-soprano Chong Lee Khim had more than she could handle in Einfaltiges Lieder (Simple Song), a misnomer if any.

Benjamin Britten's Tell Me The Truth About Love and Calypso were settings to words by W.H.Auden. The former yielded one of  evening's best performances from soprano Siti Hasia bte Abdul Hakeem, who had a most natural way with words and movements to match. The lightning speed at which soprano Gladys Seow tackled the latter was simply breathless.

The least satisfying segment of the show came in songs by American Dominick Argento, revealing the singers' lack of sympathy for the idiom, unintelligible English pronunciation, lack of confidence and experience or both.

Leaving best for last, William Bolcom's very difficult songs more or less met their match in three male singers. Baritone David Tao had a suitably smarmy way with Black Max, the personification of vice and prostitution. Tenor Reginald Jalleh had the audience in his hands with play of the word Amor, while tenor Daniel Yap brought down the house with George, a tribute to a most amicable murdered transvestite. Really, who needs to watch R-rated movies when more fun could be had in cabaret songs? 

For the record, the pianists who performed were: Nicholas Loh, Song Yuexuan, Chang Xiaoting, Soh Wei Qi, Chen Yue, Vincent Chen, Liu Qingqing and Li Qianhui,

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