Monday, 19 December 2016


MARTIN NG Vocal Recital
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Saturday (17 December 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 December 2016 with the title "A baritone grown in stature".

In a state where vocal recitals are uncommon events, a baritone concert is a curate's egg. Singaporean baritone Martin Ng has gradually been making a name for himself. Presently based in the Italian city of Verona, his recent outing as the eponymous Flying Dutchman in the Singapore premiere production of Wagner's opera in October gave notice to his considerable abilities.

This recital presented by opera blog The Mad Scene however centred around Italian operatic roles, where baritones are often limited to the part of villainous, avuncular and anti-hero characters. There was no Puccini but lots of Verdi. Here he proved his mettle, not just vocally but also dramatically, as one might in an opera house.

His programme began with two contrasting arias from Donizetti's bel canto operas. In Cruda finesta smania from Lucia di Lammermoor, he projected with a force and heroism more usually associated with tenor arias. Emoting equally well, the lyrical of pages of Come paride vezzoso (L'elisir d'amore) found that sensitivity and balance which showed he was not just a pair of sturdy lungs.

Ng's performances have grown in stature over the years. The board-like stiffness that accompanied his earlier appearances has given way to a more supple and flexible persona befitting a variety of roles. In Ponchielli's Ah! Pescatore from La Gioconda, his agile and articulate way around its tricky rhythms was a marvel to behold.

Even better were the second half's offerings of Verdi's Pieta rispetto e amore (Macbeth) and Cortigiani vil razza dannata (Rigoletto), and Giordano's Nemico della patria (Andrea Chenier). His towering and booming entries, tempestuous and anguished expressions, always found a foil in flowing melody which his mellow and multi-hued voice served well. This indicates he is ready for major roles in more repertoire operas in time to come.

Adding variety to the programme was Chinese soprano Li Jie, graduate of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and now living in Germany, in some non-Italian repertoire.  Her command of Schumann's lied In der Fremde, Lehar's Meine Lippen (from Giuditta) and the obligatory Puccini aria (Signore ascolta from Turandot) was excellent, and was every bit Ng's equal.

The accompaniment was provided by Montenegrin pianist Boris Kraljevic, whose orchestral conception of the music ensured that a fuller ensemble was not missed. His solo segment was as varied as the songs he played for, applying myriad shades of bell sonorities to two Rachmaninov pieces, the Musical Moment (Op.16 No.5) and Etude-Tableau (Op.33 No.8).

Together, the threesome served up sumptuous readings of the recital's most substantial pieces, operatic duets from three Verdi operas. The relationships between father and daughter (Rigoletto), father and prospective daughter-in-law (La Traviata), evil duke and would-be lover (Il Trovatore) were shelled out with a show of passion and conviction.

The chemistry between all three performers was clearly palpable, and prolonged acclaim following a stirring Udiste... Mira di acerbe lagrime (Il Trovatore) ensured that the heights of its conclusion would be encored, to further applause.  

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