Monday 13 April 2015

A KNIFE IN THE DARK / New Opera Singapore / Review

New Opera Singapore
The Chamber, The Arts House
Friday (10 April 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 April 2015 with the title "Show with call girls, smoking, murder".

For those familiar with New Opera Singapore's productions, especially the hilarious Opera Comique series, this concert of songs by German composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was a departure from its norm. While the 18 songs performed by 12 singers were strung together in a neat piece of dramatisation by Goh Ming Siu that followed a discernible story-line, the subject was anything but a laughing matter.

The Mayor (Shaun Lee) sings Mack the Knife.

The titular A Knife In The Dark brings together Mack the Knife and Lady in the Dark, two of Weill's better known song and musical titles. The setting also paralleled those of Weill's musical theatre, art noir with liberal doses of social commentary, exposing the murky underbelly of modern society. This one takes place in a Depression period brothel, with cynical characters rubbing body parts with hopelessly naive ones amidst sexual politics and alcoholism, complete with three murders and two suicides to boot.    

Surely this must be an R(A) scene!
The mayor's wife in bed before she gets offed.

What would the censors make of three callgirls in skimpy outfits smoking on stage, an unmade bed, shooting and stabbings (all fatal) taking place on the floor of Parliament, once commanded by Lee Kuan Yew? All this without a R(A) rating. Such was Robert Jenkin's stage direction that kept the audience transfixed and guessing as to what would happen next. The singing, accompanied by Shane Thio on clavinova, was not bad too.

As expected, femme fatales stole the show. Wendy Woon's Madame Lucy (above) in Somehow I Never Could Believe was the most moving number, sung as she quits the world's oldest profession near the end. Rebecca Li's Anna (below) provided the best diction in husky tones, with Schickelgruber (a parody on Hitler's original surname) and Nanna's Lied, the last sung expertly in German. Moira Loh's seductive Barbara (below) amply displayed her assets with foreign tongues, coping easily in the highest registers of Barbara's Lied and Je ne t'aime pas, in German and French.

Jonathan Charles Tay (below) was the wizened father in Where Is The One Who Will Mourn Me When I Am Gone? and the popular September Song. On this form, the tenor is beginning to develop a substantial and convincing baritone voice. The son, Jonathan Khoo as the haplessly in love Edward, cut a sympathetic figure in I Got a Marble and a Star and Lonely House. Ashley Chua as the equally vulnerable mayor's wife had two songs, My Ship and Breck Weaver My True Lover.

Rachel Ong, Leslie Tay, Marky Canios and Marie Luo had bit parts as supporting characters, singing one number each before disappearing into the shadows or being rubbed off. The eponymous Mack the Knife was sung by Shaun Lee, he with his booming and over-emphatic voice, as the slimy mayor who becomes Mack's first victim. So who played the murderous Macheath?

Two more deaths, and the detectives
have their hands full.
Murder most foul.
The Mayor gets de-elected, but by whom?

The shadowy criminal, represented by the hammily sung Ballad of the Easy Life, was revealed as tenor Lim Jing Jie, whose most highly-prized skill has to be his disguise. He looks exactly like an accountant or tax consultant, who wields a dagger like a ballpoint pen. His ultimate comeuppance also answers the final question of the intrigue: who was Barbara's secret lover?

As in life, there are sob stories and there are those which end happily ever after. The audience's lot fortunately belonged in the latter; this rather different production by New Opera Singapore provided over an hour and a half of uncommon entertainment. More of the same please.       

The fine cast of New Opera Singapore
has excelled yet again.

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