Tuesday, 8 November 2016

OPERACALYPSE NOW!! / L'arietta / Review

Aliwal Arts Centre
Sunday (6 November 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 8 November 2016 with the title "Fun opera apocalypse keeps kids riveted".

Halloween has come and gone but its macabre spirit lingered on for newly-formed local opera company L'arietta's latest production, which cramped three short operas into a single act, not for the first time. 

Gravestones of the opera divas
and Al B Bach (1685-1750)

The black box space in the Aliwal Arts Centre was transformed into a spooky cavern with various Halloween paraphernalia and two wine bars, one of which was tended by the monosyllabic tenor Reuben Lai as the world comes to a cataclysmic end.

A newsflash announces that an asteroid is hurtling towards the planet and extinction is imminent in ten minutes, which was where tenor Leslie Tay's Figaro Montague and soprano Kristin Symes' Carmen Capulet came into the picture in the first opera, Figaro's Last Hangover by Patrick Soluri. Short snippets from the eponymous operas were relived, while old loves rekindled for one last time.

This was not so much a scena lyrique but an acted-out melodrama, where the singers' vivid characterisation of its comedic characters stole the show. Their voices were clearly projected and no surtitles were needed. As their surnames suggested, the couple soon began feuding over past amours and the romance unravelled to laughter from the audience.

The impending disaster is however delayed, which allowed for Michael Hurd's The Widow of Ephesus, the longest and most lyrical part of the trilogy, to be played out. Here the vocal qualities of the singers came to the fore. Symes' cynical Maid, Lai's unlikely Soldier, and soprano Angela Hodgins' grieving Widow all shined in this romance which took place outside a tomb.

What happens when the Soldier's dereliction of duty as a result of his tryst threatens to lead to a court-martial and possible execution? A neat solution provided by corpse-swapping saved the day, with all parties happy in the end. The Widow gets a new lover while the Soldier gets off the hook.

Whatever's left over from
the head of a music critic!

Mary Ann Tear's direction ensured that story-telling and interaction between performers, television screen and the informally seated audience (which included many children kept in rapt attention) remained paramount. This was vital in conveying the message that modern opera could be unstuffy, accessible and even fun. Music director Aloysius Foong was an ever-alert presence with his demanding part sympathetically helmed on the piano.

The asteroid has struck, the characters are still alive but Earth has been overrun by the living dead, which was the basis of the concluding opera, Soluri's Figaro and the Zombie Apocalypse. The lovelorn Figaro returned to the bar for one last fling, and so did Carmen, but never the twain shall meet as the squabbles began once again. As this entertaining production keenly alluded to, some things are destined never to change, even after the zombies have come home.    

Zombies and music critics meet
(frankly is there a difference?)

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