NO TENORS ALLOWED
Victoria Concert Hall
Sunday (19 September 2021)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 22 September 2021
The cheeky title marking the debut of newly-formed opera society Lirica Arts plays on the fact that tenors often steal the show in operas. Not this evening, they don’t, as the 90-minute concert centred wholly on duets for soprano and baritone.
Tenors usually portray heroes, while deeper-voiced baritones mostly play jealous rivals, fatherly and avuncular sorts, pitiable buffoons or outright villains. The soprano-baritone duet, while less glamourous, are often more complex and multi-layered. These still pack in emotional heft as amply demonstrated by soprano Teng Xiang Ting and baritone Martin Ng. Both singers are already veterans having helmed pivotal roles despite their relative youth, and their experience showed.
Opening the show was Ng singing Tonio’s disclaimer in the Prologue of Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, advising listeners that the stage mirrors life, with lines of distinction often blurred. There was no accompanying orchestra but pianist Beatrice Lin’s contribution was so good that none was needed. Shridhar Mani, a most engaging host, filled in the intrigues between the genders.
A spirit of levity occupied duets from two comic operas. In Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Ng’s Malatesta plots subterfuge by getting Teng’s Norina to impersonate a woman of virtue in Pronto Io Son! In Dunque Io Son, Tu Non Mi Inganni from Rossini’s The Barber Of Seville, Teng’s Rosina is abetted by Ng’s Barber to have a tryst. In both instances, the chicanery involved revealed an instinctual and playful chemistry between the two.
Teng is the more expressive and better actor, her brightly ringing voice always a pleasure to behold. She was matched by Ng’s more stoic demeanor, whose steadfastness became a pillar of strength throughout. When the ante was upped in more serious duets, dramatics were also ratcheted accordingly, especially in the evening’s lengthiest duet.
Pura Siccome Un’Angelo was the focal point in Act II of Verdi’s La Traviata. The consumptive demi-monde Violetta’s act of self sacrifice following her lover’s father Germont’s pleas was angst-filled yet intensely lyrical, leaving the listener chastened and saddened on her behalf.
Two further bleeding chunks confirmed that duets could also lead to fatal consequences. Silvio! A Quest’iora from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci was a follow up to the concert’s prologue. The love that united Nedda and Silvio was an illicit one. Their ardent proclamations, although realistic and lovingly voiced, provided brief bliss but concealed ill fates.
The over-protective relationship between father and daughter in Verdi’s Rigoletto was fleshed out in Tutte Le Feste Al Tempio...Si Vendetta!, which had some of the evening’s most moving music. Regret and rage were conflicting emotions displayed by Teng and Ng respectively, the pair oblivious to the tragedy to follow.
Superb singing, enhanced by Tang Xinxin’s no nonsense direction, Theresa Chan’s evocative costumes and Zennie Casann’s effective make-up, laid bare the human emotions and frailties to be found in opera. One only wished the programme’s printed libretto and transliterations, rendered almost unreadable in dim lighting, were replaced by projected surtitles instead. Nonetheless, this was a fine first splash for Singapore’s newest opera company.