Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Merry Widow - A Review

An edited version of this review will be published in The Straits Times on 27 Oct 2014. 

The Merry Widow
Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre
Friday, 24th October

Since gender stereotyping has come under intense media scrutiny of late, the Singapore Lyric Opera's production of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow over the weekend couldn't have come at a better time. Staged more as a musical than an opera with spoken dialogue, this well-loved operetta with its tuneful melodies was rife with gender stereotyping, mostly to do with women being enigmatic. It tells of a young, beautiful and stupendously wealthy widow's quest to find a new husband, and her country men's attempts to find her a local suitor for fear of losing her (and her money) to Paris, leaving their homeland of Pontevedro in bankruptcy.

Tiffany Speight shows she can dance the can-can and sing, in tune and in sync! 

The three-act operetta remained faithful to its quintessential Edwardian form with costumes, a chandelier, and can-can dancing Parisian girls, but was sung and spoken in English rather than the original German. Simple but versatile set design by Aaron Christopher Yap was made highly effective by innovative lighting from designer Adrian Tan, most memorably when the scene depicting a garden party was transformed into a magic forest for the song "Vilja" in an instant through subtle lighting changes in the backdrop.  

Camille and Valencienne in their tender love duet 

Ashley Catling as attaché Camille de Rosilion sounded weaker and a little forced in the first act, but warmed up to deliver a passionate love song 'Red as the rose of May time' in the second act. Tiffany Speight embraced the role of Camille's love interest Valencienne with gusto. She was naturally suave and charming, even managing to stay perfectly in tune and in step while singing and dancing the can-can! Her naive and cuckolded husband, Baron Zeta was aptly played by the grandfatherly John Bolton Wood.
Grandfatherly John Bolton Wood plays the cuckolded Baron, and Steven Ang as Njegus, his attendant

the Merry Widow tells the tale of Vilja
The jewel of the production was most definitely lyric soprano Kishani Jayasinghe. She outshone the rest of the cast, and not only literally by the amount of bling she wore in the first act, but with her sumptuous vocals as well. As wealthy widow Hanna, Jayasinghe exuded a dazzling Parisian glamour and authority, and enthralled the audience. She showed herself to be a complete master of her voice, with a clear projection, impeccable dynamic control, and a stunning range of colour. She was well-matched with Nicholas Ransley who played her old flame, Count Danilo Danilovich. He had a charming and cultivated air about him, and their duet scenes, whether arguing, dancing or singing, were always a delight to watch.

Nicholas Ransley as Count Danilovich made a good match with Jayasinghe
The constant competition and banter between Cascada and St Brioche kept the production light-hearted. With such a rich tone, one wishes that tenor Melvin Tan had more lines to sing. The non-singing, spoken role of Njegus played by Steven Ang kept the audience amused, and multiple local references such as the Baron's complaints of the Indonesian haze and Njegus's exclamation of "Siao liao ah!" also added to the comic relief.

Melvin Tan as Cascada. If only he had more lines to sing! 
The ensemble-work, especially by the male cast in 'Women, women, women!' and by the quintet towards the end was tight and well-balanced. The entire production was supported wonderfully by the orchestra, especially at the 'Vilja' reprise where the silvery line of the solo violin mingled with the mellow tone of the oboe to beautifully evoke the feeling of nostalgia.

Gender-stereotyping does work after all, but probably only when employed in a comical operatic fashion.

photo credits: Singapore Lyric Opera - Bernie Ng

Monday, 20 October 2014

Answer and results for Ticket Giveaway Contest: Synergy in Music 2014 presented by Gazprom

So... when did Vadim Repin first perform in Singapore?

He first performed in Singapore at the Singapore Festival of Arts in 1996 at Victoria Concert Hall, as shown by a search on NewspaperSG.

He has subsequently returned multiple times in the next few years, including the year 2000, and the most recent appearance was in 2012 with Neeme Jarvi at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

Repin returns to perform at the place he first performed 18 years ago, the Victoria Concert Hall, and this time with 5 other acclaimed Russian musicians in an evening of chamber music. The concert takes place on the 28th of October, 7pm.

Since all answers submitted were wrong, two winners were picked at random:

So congratulations to Tay Kang Xun and Rachael Chan!! You both win a pair of tickets (worth $89) each to Synergy in Music 2014 presented by Gazprom. An email will be sent to you regarding ticket collection later.

Don't miss this one-night-only chance to watch Vadim Repin and other Russian musical talents. Get your tickets from Sistic now!

This concert is sponsored by Gazprom as part of their initiative to forge deeper intercultural bonds between the arts in Singapore and Russia.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

TPO Presents... Debusssy Tonight! - an advertisement

If paintings were songs, what would they sound like? Would their colours be harmonies; would their subjects be tempo markings?

Join The Philharmonic Orchestra in exploring the picturesque music of Debussy in their next concert
'Debussy Tonight' on October 26th! This concert is a continuation of their popular educational concert series and the orchestra will be joined by actor-presenter William Ledbetter as he tells the stories in Debussy's music. Enter the sound world of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun which 'brought new breath to the art of music' (Pierre Boulez), and be swept away in the luxurious waters of the Mediterranean by the composer's iridescent symphonic sketches, La Mer.

TPO will also be joined by The Philharmonic Chamber Choir with Trois Chansons which connects the styles of the past with the harmonic techniques of the time.

This concert takes place at the Victoria Concert Hall on the 26th of October at 5pm. Tickets are priced at $25, with discounts and concessions available.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Synergy in Music 2014 presented by Gazprom: Gazprom - Plink, Plonk, Plunk Ticket Giveaway Contest!!

Award-winning violinist Vadim Repin will be in Singapore to perform at an exclusive one-night only gala concert, Synergy in Music, this 28 October 2014 at the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

Repin will be performing at Synergy in Music together with six other Russian musical talents, where they will be bringing timeless classical pieces to life through an intricately crafted recital with five diverse string compositions, and with a highlight performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence”.

Don't miss this one-night-only chance to watch Vadim Repin and other Russian musical talents. Get your tickets from Sistic now!

ALTERNATIVELY, Gazprom has kindly sponsored TWO PAIRS of tickets to be given away to two lucky winners who can answer the following question:

Which year did Vadim Repin first perform in Singapore?
Submit your answers here by 18th Oct 2014. Winners will be notified by email.

This concert is sponsored by Gazprom as part of their initiative to forge deeper intercultural bonds between the arts in Singapore and Russia.

Friday, 3 October 2014

VCH Chamber Series: Stephen Hough in Recital - a review

It was on the 5th of January last year that I went to watch Stephen Hough play a programme of Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, and a work of his own at a church in Harrogate. Christmas and the New Year had come and gone, but our university had remained shut, leaving me bored and not able to practice in Leeds. When C from my Italian class asked if I wanted to watch Hough play at a neighbouring town where he lived, I jumped at the chance and went along.

We arrived slightly before the concert started and by then, the lower floor of Wesley Chapel was filled and we were directed to the upper level, where we found seats which had our views blocked: so we heard the concert rather than watched it, only getting a view of Hough when he stood up to bow.

Although C didn't particularly fancy Brahms' and preferred Schumann's Carnaval, I was blown away by his playing, especially in the slow movements. In fact, I thought his playing was perfect, almost too perfect.

I also thought it was amusing that he played almost the entire programme from memory, except for (ironically) his own piece, in which he required not only the score, but also a page turner!

At the end of the concert, Hough explained that he was quite ill and initially intended to cancel the concert - I'm glad he didn't!

A year and a half later, back in my home on the other side of the world, I relished the opportunity to watch him play.

An edited version of review below will be published in The Straits Times on 4 October 2014.


photo credits: SIM CANETTY-CLARKE 

VCH Chamber Series: Stephen Hough in Recital
Stephen Hough, piano
Victoria Concert Hall
Thursday, 2 Oct 2014

"It's like a sandwich, French rye bread at the ends and some a Polish sausage in the middle," says British pianist Stephen Hough of his recital programme, before playing Chopin's Op. 15 no. 2 Nocturne in F-sharp Major as his first encore.

Hough has made regular concert appearances in Singapore since the 1990s, and has gained a large fan base here. His programme comprised of four Debussy works which bookended the four Chopin ballades, and this performance was his first since the Victoria Concert Hall was refurbished, having performed there numerous times before.

Adhering to Debussy's performance directions of playing with delicacy and tempo fluctuations, Hough delivered a clearly coherent and witty performance of La Plus Que Lent, emphasising the dissonant harmonies cheekily and intentionally keeping the tempo unstable. These quirky characteristics were also evident in the penultimate work, Debussy's Children's Corner Suite, especially in the third (Serenade of the Doll) and last movement (Golliwog's cakewalk).

In Estampes, the acoustics of the hall suited Pagodes well, the tones of the piano resonating nicely before fading. In the Habanera, the opening high C-sharps rang clear like a tinkling bell. Hough flitted between the contrasting sections with a natural ease and seemed to revel in the 'wrong notes', the peculiar and unique harmonies which gave the work its character. Unfortunately, the acoustics worked against the toccata-like Jardins sous la Pluie, leaving behind an array of blurred notes echoing away all throughout the work.

Debussy's L'isle Joyeuse which closed the concert was inspired by artist Watteau's colourful painting, L'Embarquement de Cythère, depicting a happy group of revellers departing for/from a mythical island that is the birthplace of goddess Venus. Hough's version, however, was monochrome. He played only loud and louder, the expressive palette of colours he used for the earlier works seem to have been exhausted, and the subtleties of tonal shading also used before were non-existent here. The quiet sparkling and shimmering of the water at the beginning sounded more like a rushing stream.

In between Estampes and the Children's Corner suite were the four Chopin ballades, daringly fast and played with refreshing candour. The calm introduction of the Second Ballade gave way to wild, careless abandon, and the tentativeness in the beginning of the First Ballade broke into an overly sentimental and lyrical middle section. Throughout the Ballades the louder moments were fiery and brilliant - Hough was undoubtedly a virtuoso - but it was in the softer and stiller moments where he made an impact. His use of rubato was strikingly unconventional. He lingered over certain phrases, taking time at all sorts of places, and sometimes even intentionally playing both hands asynchronously such that the melody is given prominence. The ending of the Fourth Ballade was taken at breakneck speed, again resulting in a blur.

Hough subsequently tossed off two more encores: a Pas de Deux from Austrian composer Léon Minkus' ballet music for Don Quixote, and the nocturne from Grieg's Lyric Pieces Suite, Op. 54 no. 4.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

On the Flipside: An antipodal concert - an advertisement

Antipodes: Having the feet opposite.
Anti: against, opposite+opus; pod: foot.

As a child living on the other side of the world, flautist Roberto Álvarez often wondered, 'if you dig a hole straight down through the Earth, will you end up in New Zealand?'

And since New Zealand is on the other side of the world, do people walk with their feet in the air? Do they speak backwards? Do trees grow upside down too, starting from the leaves and ending with their roots in the air?

How then, do people play music and write for the flute? In this recital, Roberto Álvarez and pianist Shane Thio explore the repertoire by Spanish composers Elisenda Fábregas and Salvador Brotons, and Kiwis Gareth Farr and Anthony Ritchie.

Come find out, and compare how different or how similar flute music is on the flipside! Happening next tuesday, 23rd September 2014, at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Get your tickets from Sistic now! Tickets are priced at $30 each.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Could this be death? - a review

An edited version of this review will be published in The Straits Times on 15 September.

Could this be death?
Cheryl Lee Peixin, soprano, Wong Yun QI, piano
Esplanade Recital Studio
Last Friday, 12 Sept 

Are some people so curious about death, because they have not yet died? Many composers have been fascinated with death and things associated with it, and it is probably the most written-about subject in music, probably ranking second after love. Death may be morbid, but some composers personified death as peaceful, welcoming rest after a hard life. It is with this aim of presenting the many facets of death that Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts alumni Cheryl Lee Peixin and Wong Yun Qi programmed this recital, which was presented by the Young Musicians' Society as part of their ongoing After Eight concert series.

With the opening "Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone/Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone" of Britten's Funeral Blues, Lee showcased her alluring, dark-hued lower range and worked her way up towards a belting fortissimo at the end. Also sung in English was Barber's Op. 10 which opened the second half of the recital. Lee deftly changed from one emotion to another within the song, without losing the rich tone of her voice, and accompanied as admirably by Wong.

The duo offered a selection of lieder by Schubert and Strauss in the first half. Lee brought out the frantic, panicking character of the maiden and contrasted it with the placid character of death in Schubert's Der Tod und das Mädchen. In Gruppe aus dem Tartarus, Wong skilfully painted the murmuring of the raging sea, exercising excellent control and never overpowering Lee. The extent and enormity of loss was shown in a simple yet heart-rending account of Strauss' Allerseelen, and it was paired with the highly emotional Befreit.

Singaporean composer Americ Goh's two works of the same title, Little Deaths (Concert Versions 1.1 and 2.0) stuck out like sore thumbs amidst the repertoire of eighteenth to early nineteenth century works. Written for solo voice, it was a cacophony of jumbled up vocalisations: hisses, swoops, random pitches and exaggeratedly enunciated text (this reviewer could make out the words "oh my god, yes" and "no") without programme notes or an explanation, it did not seem to make sense musically or conceptually. Lee performed these pieces with theatrical flair.

Wong took centre-stage to perform the evocative El Corpus in Sevilla from Albeniz's suite Iberia, where the Spanish folk tune La Tarara is presented firstly as a jaunty procession then in different forms, and in between episodes of a mournful flamenco. Occasional snatches of too much pedal blurred some of the passages, but she effectively captured the languor of the Spanish atmosphere.

Showing no signs of tiring, the duo definitely saved the best for the last, ending off with Wagner's Liebestod from the opera Tristan und Isolde, but not before performing two of Mahler's lieder. All three written originally with orchestral accompaniment. Wong's sensitive accompaniment was always complementary and supportive, musically highlighting the intricate orchestral textures. Throughout the concert, Lee transitioned beautifully between the upper and lower registers of her voice, delivering powerfully glistening high notes over the piano, which was kept at full-lid. An encore, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot chased away any morbid thoughts of the programme anyone might have had and was a reminder to the fantastic musicianship displayed in the concert.


**have just received an email from Derek Lim, editor of The Flying Inkpot, who pointed out that 'La petit mort', or the little death, is (from Wikipedia), an idiom and euphemism for orgasm. Perhaps this explains Americ Goh's piece a bit more.. Thank you, Derek! :)