SILK ROAD EXTRAVAGANZA
Esplanade Concert Hall
23 September 2017)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 25 September 2017 with the title "Chinese extravaganza".
Only one work in the concert by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra titled Silk Road Extravaganza had anything to with the fabled ancient
Silk Road. That
was Jiang Ying's The Silk Road, a 10-minute-long fantasy that used
Central Asian melodies featuring solo dizi, suona and gaohu
at its outset. Then it launched into a crescendo, with plucked strings and
percussion leading the dance procession to a raucous conclusion.
This concert led by SCO Music Director Yeh Tsung was in actual fact an opera highlights show sponsored by the
office of the Bank of China. That would explain Hu
Xiaoliu's brief overture with the undisguised title The Pride Of Bank Of
China, a feel-good piece which opened like the introduction of The Blue
Danube and closed in rousing march rhythm. Singapore
The ensuing songs and arias were distributed into five suites beginning with Journey To The West (with well-known Chinese songs) and Golden Songs From Europe, which introduced three Chinese opera stars in a manner not dissimilar to those Three Tenors galas.
Soprano Huang Ying, renowned for playing Cio Cio San (Puccini's Madama Butterfly), was easily the star of the evening. Her faultless vocal apparatus and projection matched the natural ease and sheer sensuality of her delivery. There was no Puccini sung but in Delibes' Les Filles De Cadix (The Girls Of Cadiz) and Rossini's Una Voce Poco Fa (The Barber Of Seville), she stamped her class in spectacular coloratura runs and coquettish teases. Even her take on Gershwin's Summertime (Porgy And Bess) had much feeling and allure.
A rising name is baritone Zhou Zhengzhong who was vocally convincing in Rossini's freewheeling Largo Al Factotum (Barber Of Seville), the tricky La Promessa (also by Rossini) and Lehar's Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz (from The Land Of Smiles). One only wished he had a greater range of movement and non-verbal expression, lest he be mistaken for a singing statue.
Tenor Zhang Jianyi was clearly past his best, with his volume-challenged and wafer-thin voice mostly fighting hard to transcend the orchestra. He could still hold some long notes, in Donizetti's Una Furtiva Lagrime (L'Elisir D'Amore) and Bring Him Home (Les Miserables) from the Best Hits From Musicals segment.
For the mostly Chinese audience, much appreciation was had in the Chinese songs, which included Why Are The Flowers So Red,
Heavenly Road, Vagrant's Homesickness, Follow You, China
My Love and Silky Acacia. However the lack of concert etiquette was
telling. There were many people who thought nothing of talking, walking in and
out, and using their brightly illuminated handphones to take pictures, while
the music was playing.
Generating most excitement were songs which involved all three singers. The ubiquitous O Sole Mio was accomplished without Three Tenors upmanship of stretching out long-held notes and trills, and patriotism welled up for Liu Chi's My Homeland. Enjoying themselves thoroughly, these two songs were encored to further noisy acclaim.