Monday, 1 August 2016


Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (29 July 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 August 2016 with the title "Brilliant night on Broadway".

Several years ago, an idea was mooted that a professional pops orchestra be formed in Singapore to cater to popular tastes in music-making and concert-going. That vision has not come to fruition, but many local groups – professional and amateur – have taken to producing pops concerts of late. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra has also joined the band wagon, but with a big difference: it has the best instrumental soloists playing in its ranks.

Thus SSO Associate Conductor Joshua Tan took pains to name the key musicians during the course of this pops concert that centred around Broadway musicals. The guest soloist was local jazz singer Rani Singam in her SSO debut, and she took some time to warm up to the backing of a 90-piece band.

Her opening number was reliving Eliza Doolittle (with Audrey Hepburn and the late Marni Nixon) in I Could Have Danced All Night from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. Sound amplification helped highlight her diction and enunciation, which were excellent, besides allowing some of her simple elaborations to be better heard. On The Street Where You Live was a man's song, and a tenor's voice would have been preferable here.

From Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound Of Music, My Favourite Things took on a personal and local touch as Singam managed to sneak in “roti prata” amongst whiskers on kittens and warm woollen mittens. By the time she reached Fantine's tear-jerker, I Dreamed A Dream from Schonberg and Boublil's Les Miserables, one of the evening's more poignant songs, she had more than warmed up.

In between vocal numbers, the orchestra played short overtures and medleys, the longest of which was Gershwin In Hollywood, arranged by Robert Russell Bennett, which included songs A Foggy Day, Love Walked In, Nice Work If You Can Get It and Love Is Here To Stay. In Bernstein's rumbling West Side Story Overture, the shout of “Mambo!” from the orchestra was tepid at best, and perhaps the audience be enlisted to make it sound like everyone meant it the next time around.

In the second half, Singam came into her own in Gershwin's 'S Wonderful from Funny Face,  including some ad-libbing in between and the soaring Someone To Watch Over Me from Oh, Kay! For these, she received even greater applause. Arguably even better were her versions of Somewhere and Tonight from West Side Story, which she hailed as her all-time favourite musical.

The high register needed for Maria's song Somewhere was easily overcome for the spine-tingling moments in a genuinely moving performance. In Tony's ecstatic Tonight, gender became immaterial as only attitude mattered, and Singam had heaps of it. The ghosts of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras in Bernstein's own recording were more than truly exorcised. 

The encore, Over The Rainbow from Harold Arlen's The Wizard Of Oz, a perfect mix of emoting and control was the icing of the cake. Even after two hours, one was sorry that it all had to end sometime.

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