Singapore Various: Soloists, Singapore Lyric Opera Chorus and Children’s Choir, Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra, Joshua Kangming Tan (conductor), Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore 13.11.2015. (RP)
Nancy Yuen, Soprano
Anna Koor, Mezzo Soprano
Lee Jae Wook, Tenor
Song Kee Chang, Baritone
Martin Ng, Baritone
Nanyang Junior College Choir
Pioneer Junior College Choir
Mozart: Overture to Die Zauberflöte; “La ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni: “Soave sia il vento” from Così fan tutte: “Hai già vinta la causa” from Le Nozze di Figaro
Offenbach: “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour” from Les contes d’Hoffmann
Puccini: “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca; “Che gelida manina” & “O soave fanciulla” from La Bohème; “Vogliatemi bene” from Madama Butterfly; “Nessun dorma” from Turandot
Leong: “Can I believe the sentiment of song” from Bunga Mawar
Gounod: “Faites-lui mes aveux” from Faust
Verdi: “E strano.. .Ah fors’è lui” from La Traviata; “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore; “Quartet” from Rigoletto; “Brindisi” from La Traviata
Bizet: “Votre toast” & “Les voici” from Carmen
Strauss: Overture to Die Fledermaus
Lehár: “Love Unspoken” from The Merry Widow
Romberg: “Drinking song” from The Student Prince
Rossini: “Largo al factotum” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Leoncavallo: “Si può dare di più” from Pagliacci
Mascagni: “Easter Hymn” from Cavalleria Rusticana
The Singapore Lyric Opera’s (SLO) gala concert celebrating its 25th anniversary opened with the overture from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, the very first offering by the fledgling company in 1991. The overture followed a brief welcome by Tan Weng Cheong, the SLO’s Chairman, two choruses of Happy Birthday, and the blowing out of candles on a large cake. Selections from 21 operas presented by the SLO since its inception followed.
Tenor Lee Jae Wook was the star of the evening. He’s a tenor with a capital T! Lee gets beneath the skin of the music and fills it with emotion. His rich, lyrical voice was heard to its best advantage in Rodolfo’s opening aria from La Bohème. Perhaps he just needed to warm up, but the climax of his first aria, “E lucevan le stelle,” was a bit off the mark. However, he delivered a ringing high B to end “Nessun Dorma,” delighting the audience. Nevertheless, baritone Song Kee Chang’s Toreador Song from Carmen might just have been the musical highpoint of the concert, and his Mozart and Rossini arias were also fine. Of all the singers, Song’s was the voice that fit the arias that he sang like a fine leather glove.
Soprano Nancy Yuen was named the SLO’s Honorary Artistic Director in August 2015. Yuen has a long relationship with the SLO and has appeared with the company often over the years. A singer of great style and sincerity, Yuen’s voice is no longer up to the demands of the Verdi and Puccini selections which she programmed. The coloratura was carefully placed in Violetta’s Act I aria from La Traviata, and she is at ease with the dramatic demands, but high notes were strained and pitch sagged. Sadly, that was the case throughout the evening.
Anna Koor was heard to her best advantage in the Gounod aria, but lacked the vocal heft and high notes to do justice to the “Easter Hymn” from Cavalleria Rusticana.
In Tonio’s aria from Pagliacci, baritone Martin Ng evidenced why he has garnered some awards, including the SLO’s International Singer of the Year Award. His wooden stage presence, covered sound, and troublesome diction undercut the beauty of his natural vocal endowment.
The SLO has also nurtured the art form by commissioning works by Singaporean composers. Bunga Mawar by Leong Yoon Pin was first performed by the company in 1997. Leong (1931-2011), known as the Father of Singaporean Composers, incorporated local elements into his music. Bunga Mawar (The Rose) was the first Western-style opera composed by a Singaporean, with a libretto in the style of Malay pantun, a traditional oral poetic form of expression, often dealing with the theme of love. However, the tuneful duet “Can I believe the sentiment of song” left little impression due to Yuen’s low key delivery and Ng’s all but unintelligible English.
One of the joys of the evening was watching the orchestra perform. The majority of the players are quite young and impart an energy and enthusiasm that is contagious. Most at home in the romantic and verismo pieces – Offenbach, Puccini, and the like – they as much as anything demonstrated the vitality of the Singaporean opera scene. The massed choirs likewise added excitement and drama to the evening’s proceedings, especially in the chorus from Carmen, which would have been a more fitting ending to the first half than the two excerpts from La Bohème which followed. Tan conducted with style, critically keeping things moving at a brisk pace, and always sensitive to balance, ensuring that the singers could be heard.
Chairman Tan in his opening remarks said that in1991 launching an opera company in Singapore was, “A leap of faith. An act of passion.” Funding then, as it is now, was a challenge, but Singapore is not alone there. The numbers are a testament to the SLO’s success – 42 staged productions, an average of five concerts a year, including the popular Opera in the Park in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, and tens of thousands of people who enjoyed the company’s live performances. The gamble paid off and has borne fruit. Happy 25th Birthday SLO, and all the best wishes for an exciting future!