There exists an unspoken agreement amongst all in the industry that if even a minute spark of interest in the arts is found within the local public, the artistic groups of Singapore would honourably die fanning the flames.
Akin to almost all arts groups in Singapore, the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) harbours the same tacit mission: one of imploring the local masses to take an interest in the arts. The SLO’s Gala Concert was, therefore, not an exception but rather, a prime example of just how highly the local concert-goer is sought-after.
Held last Friday at the Esplanade Concert Hall, the grand dame of concert venues in Singapore (the proud matriarch faces no threat from her acoustically-untreated sisters), the SLO welcomed the masses for a night of approachable opera.
Starring Singaporeans Anna Koor (mezzo-soprano) and William Lim (baritone), alongside the British Sri Lankan soprano Kishani Jayasinghe and the Philippine-born American tenor Arthur Espiritu, both of which made their Singapore debut on Friday, the concert also saw the prominent featuring of the SLO Orchestra. Helmed by local conductor Joshua Kangming Tan, the 54-strong orchestra had ample opportunity to hog the limelight, with two whole overtures, on top of the other operatic pieces featuring soloists, for them to flaunt their musicianship.
The concert featured a selection of well-known (read: overplayed) pieces from various operas; those numbers that usually accompany deranged masterminds in superhero flicks, with a screaming chorus in tow.
From the start, the Gala Concert set itself apart from the “highbrow” element one usually encounters when attending a classical performance. Upon assuming his position atop the conductor’s podium, conductor Joshua Kangming Tan picked up not a baton but a microphone. Beginning a pattern that would continue throughout the night, the upcoming piece would be introduced together with its historical backstory, making the performance more accessible to the audience.
Starting with the bizarre Overture from The Barber Of Seville, the SLO Orchestra kickstarted the concert into high gear. While more violas could have “beefed up” the overall sound (there were only four violists), the familiar tune was an easy starter for the night. As explained prior to the performance, the flighty work was most prominently featured in pop culture through a Looney Tunes cartoon (Bugs Bunny – “The Rabbit Of Seville), of all means. Watch a live rendition by the Houston Symphony, with the animation airing overhead (very Lord Of The Rings Soundtrack-like):
Cleverly curated with the layman in mind, the next piece was also easy to digest. The pleasant, repeated vocal theme of “Vilja-Lied” (“Vilja’s Song”) from “The Merry Widow” was decently handled by soprano Kishani and her glittery upper register. In some ways, this was kinda like a really refined club banger – where one chorus is repeated over and over – but sung really high.
Tenor Arthur Espiritu
Continuing the pattern of simple repertoire “Una furtiva lagrima“ (“A furtive tear”) from “L’eliser d’amore” (“The Elixir Of Love”), for tenor. The singer plays the role of Nemorino, a simple-minded village boy who falls in love with Adina, a girl way out of his league. He becomes overcome with emotion as he sings, as he believes that a “love potion” that he purchased from a swindler has taken effect on Adina. Arthur Espiritu’s bright, youthful timbre captivated the audience, with his “money notes” coming into prime focus during the few bars of silence from the instruments. His squillo-enriched voice was more than capable of cutting through the richness of the brass section, all while his hands were casually in his pockets.
Mezzo-Soprano Anna Koor
Anna Koor (woohoo #supportlocal) took on the evergreen “Habanera” from Georges Bizet‘s “Carmen“, in a stunning black, white, and red cheongsam-like gown, no less. The gypsy Carmen adopts a flirty and audacious tone in the number, as she tells the leering men in the opera that “love is free and obeys no rules”. After hearing the strident qualities of the upper voiced singers, Anna’s mellow timbre took some time to get used to. Anna also took the performance one step further by dramatically eyeing the front rows contemptuously, with the sassy, haughty nature one would expect from the feisty character.
Soprano Kishani Jayasinghe
Kishani returned to the stage for a performance of “The Jewel Song” from Charles Gounod‘s “Faust“. Personally, this felt like the true start of the concert. The demanding piece expresses the thoughts of the opera’s lead character, Maguerite, when she finds a chest of opulent jewels at her doorstep. Kishani embodied Maguerite perfectly; with each inflection and gaze revealing her fascination and ecstasy. Her pitch-perfect leaps and control over sustained notes launched the night’s repertoire to another level, but also made her previous performance look boringly plain in comparison.
Joshua Tan’s anecdote for “Torna a Surriento” (“Come Back To Sorrento”) elicited more than just giggles from the audience. The song was written at the request of the mayor of a small, poverty-stricken Italian town, Sorrento, to remind the visiting Prime Minister to send aid to the poor city. Arthur’s gleaming tenor made for one of the best solo performances of the night, with the piece climaxing at the end of the stellar number.
The first duet piece came in the form of Strauss’ “Presentation Of The Rose” from “Der Rosenkavalier“. While delivering the silver rose from the Knight of the Silver Rose (um) to Sophie, Count Octavian is accidentally attracted to the addressee, making this the first historical record of postmen fanfic. Playing to the opera’s theme of “illusions”, the role of Count Octavian is sung by a woman. Kishani and Anna held their own in their conversational-style solos, but the real winning factors here were Anna’s masculine stage mannerisms, and their robust harmony in the duet portions of the song.
Baritone William Lim
Yet another overture after the intermission, with the lush, expansive chords of Wagner ‘s Tannhäuser proving to be the “cheem”-est work Joshua Tan had to explain for the night, with him mentioning how the brass section imitates the voices of pilgrims. Baritone William Lim took to the stage (finally), but may have been overpowered by the orchestra at some points.
The final numbers for the night were brilliant, with Kishani and Arthur fully maximising the use of the stage (and even the stage doors) in their portrayal of Rodolfo and Mimi’s budding relationship from “La Bohème“. The emotive and creative performance saw the “lovers” exit the stage triumphantly and very much in love, before entering with the other singers, William and Anna, for a finale of “Un di, se ben rammentomi, Bella figlia dell’amore” from the ever-popular “Rigoletto“. The four characters created a rather sombre ending to the night, with the female lead Gilda discovering that her lover, the Duke of Mantua, is a philandering playboy. This performance was, somehow, significantly clearer and brighter when offered as the encore number, drawing cheers from the audience as the night drew to a close.
While the SLO’s efforts in making opera accessible and approachable to the masses is commendable, they should also consider showing English translations of the Italian/other languages the text is sung in. This would ensure that the sanctity of the piece is intact, while the local audience can also fully grasp the characters’ libretto, similar to what the New Opera Singapore is attempting. But speaking in terms of talent and musicianship alone, the night saw outstanding performances from all involved. Cheers to opera… made easy!
Check out the Singapore Lyric Opera’s official website here
Images courtesy of the Singapore Lyric Opera