Thursday, December 30, 2010

12 Years of "Believe"

OK this is not really opera related but eh, just humour me this time...

Cos it was in the last few months of 1998 that a song would go on to become one of the greatest phenomenons of pop-culture, going to number 1 in the charts of 26 countries and on the playlist of many more countries. All this from a woman in her 50s whom many has written off as a has-been.

I remember it so clearly: back in my secondary school days, someone who would become my best friend for many years introduced me to this D-list celeb named Cher. We weren't in any way the "cool kids", and no one else understood or wanted to know what we were talking about. Flamboyant, out-spoken and no-nonsense with decades of experience in singing and acting and yet hidden from the mainstream, Cher was a great idol to us that no one else had gotten, and we wouldn't want it any other way. She was our best kept secret and knowing her work made us smarter than the rest of the world.

So when we heard on the internet earlier in mid-1998 that Cher would be releasing a new CD of dance songs, we honestly had no big expectations for it. It would be called Believe, and the title-track would be the first single. In our minds, it would probably be a great song and album that few people would appreciate and no one else would hear about.

And then Believe went to number one on the UK charts! So taken aback was her record company who had such low expectations that not even a music video was made to promote the album, that a montage of her past videos was hastily cobbled together while a proper video was filmed. The song would proceed to dominate the charts for a total of 7 weeks, beating out Celine Dion's phenomenally successful Titanic theme song My Heart Will Go On at the last minute to become the most successful single of the UK in 1998. In early 1999 the rest of the world finally caught on and it became number 1 in 26 countries, including the most important charts: America's Billboard Top 100.

Needless to say, Believe went to number 1 in Singapore as well. The song was heard EVERYWHERE! All of a sudden, it became cool to know everything about Cher. Having supported her for so long, my friend and I felt like we were at the centre of attention everytime the song is played on the radio, CD store or canteen jukebox, feeling that we have started a trend long ago that everyone else is only now following.

This surreal episode taught me that one is never too old to be successful even in the image-conscious music business, that perseverance, tenacity and continued hard-work does count, and that one can be true to oneself instead of being someone else in order to be popular.

Anyway, its been 12 years since that phenominal episode and Believe remains one of my favourite songs till this day; and with Burlesque about to open worldwide, its good to know that Cher will return to the mainstream once again. This guy who won a contest on Oprah explains what it is that Cher inspires in so many of her fans around the world:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Messiah by the Voices of the East Indies - 22 Dec 2010

Merry Christmas to every reader of The Mad Scene! For our Christmas special here's an account of the Voices of the East Indies's performance of Messiah, as written by a new contributor Hawk Liu:


Handel – Messiah
Yap Shing Min – soprano
Phua Ee Kia – countertenor
Melvin Tan – tenor
William Lim – bass
The Voices and Orchestra of the East Indies,
Ng Tian Hui - conductor

22nd December 2010
The Chamber, The Arts House at Old Parliament House

A Review by Hawk Liu

I had the occasion to attend a most enjoyable performance of Handel’s Messiah with the almost complete Part One and some selections from Part Two and Three. First, the choice of the The Chamber as a performance venue is a really good one. The small forces, with 3 to 4 voices per part in the chorus and 2 to 3 pieces per part in the orchestra made a great sound in the venue. The sound was warm and distrubuted nicely. In the chorus, the sopranos were good and blending well together. The altos were steady most of the time but might be a little weak in some passages due to the range, but true altos are hard to come by in Singapore. As to the balance of male – female voices, even with 3 per part for men and 4 per part for women, the men over powered the women easily. I wonder if putting the men behind the women might have helped the balance more.

A special highlight for me is For unto us a child is born, because at this point I feel that all the performance elements started to work really well after what I thought was a rocky start (in terms of blending) by the tenor and bass sections in the first 2 choruses. It didn’t help when the tenors had much brighter voices compared to the basses.

As for the Hallelujah Chorus – it was great! Considering the small forces used, it was a big sound. This was one number where the brighter tones of the tenors helped. The sopranos certainly didn’t let up either with their ascendings ‘king of kings’ section. What a joy. Even the lack of  timpanis went unnoticed amidst the ra ra everyone was providing. It was only toward the end of the number that I noticed how the mid range and lower mid pitches were missing. As usual, the audience obeyed the tradition of getting onto their feet during the chorus. Well, not everyone did – there were renegades, like myself. I was just keeping to the spirit of the baroque phenomenon of innovation and experimentation by sitting down when others are following traditions…

The orchestra, despite it’s small size, gave a confident performance. They provided a warm sound throughout. I must comment, however, that having less than 4 per part, particularly in the strings, would pose problems with pitch blending and there was certainly a number of places where that was the case. I do like how the oboes helped the orchestra blend the sound together with their steady tones. Well done. Not all ran well though – at one point, the lower strings were out of sync with the rest of the orchestra, having lost their place in the score for quite a number of bars in one of the chorus numbers.But I am pleased to note that the chorus went on as strong as ever as if nothing had happened. They went on without losing their intensity of performance and of course everyone came together at the end. Special mention goes to the principal violinist for playing the rock solid accompaniment in some of the arias. I have never heard solo accompaniments in the many Messiahs I have ever heard and this was certainly very refreshing. Thanks for making it happen. There is one doubt in my mind about the use of the double bass in this particularly small ensemble. Although it added a firm lower sound in the chorus numbers, I did wish it wasn’t used in the arias, especially in the ones where the solo violin and solo cello were used – just a question of tonal balance.

At the beginning of the concert, 3 soloists appeared during the walk-in, which left me wondering where the soprano was. Anyhow, Melvin Tan the tenor gave a fearless run of the 2 opening solo numbers. It’s a bright sound and his higher vocal tessitura lent itself well to the music, especially in Ev'ry valley and Thou shalt break them. The latter number was heroic and Melvin certainly convinced us that ‘thou wouldst DASH them’ with the final high A on the word. There were interesting embellishments used too. Yes, all the melismas went splendidly, not a beat was missed. Oh, diction was immaculate. There was a slight accident of placement for a mere split second in comfort ye but it was just a mere split second. Special mention must be made of the fact that after his solos Melvin walked briskly to the chorus to join in for all the chorus numbers during the performance!

The next soloist that sang was William Lim. With steady, warm and expressive tones, he gave a stable performance for all his arias. Thus saith the Lord was thoroughly enjoyable with all the runs in place. Certainly a version I would listen to again. In For behold, darkness shall cover the earth I did wish it was a more intense start in terms of dynamics. Personally, I would have like a bit more vocal sound in the first phrases of the number. It did get more intense at the end of the phrase ‘but the Lord shall arise’. A later number, Why do the nations, was intense thoughout – I like ‘intense’ singing, and isn’t baroque music all about passion and affective expressions? Oh, yes, bravo to William, for doing the last phrase in Why do the nations without a stop for breath, or did you trick us into believing you didn’t breathe? Thoroughly enjoyable arias, except for once in both Thus saith the Lord and Why do the nations where the conductor and singer were trying to coordinate tempi in the melismas. I would have preferred if the orchestra just played thru in strict tempi for those 2 spots. The tempo in The people who walked in darkness is just right –  A good collaboration of the forces!

But who may abide the day of His coming is my favourite number from Messiah and I had looked forward to hearing it. Ee Kia, the countertneor, had beautiful sweet tones and made the aria lovely to listen to. My friend was in tears listening to the voice. That being said, there was slight sychronising problems with the orchestra in the middle of the prestissimo section but he recovered well. I was particularly delighted with the inclusion of the very rare version of Thou art gone up on high sung by Ee Kia. I have heard countless versions of Messiah and never came across this version of the aria. What a treat! Thanks to Ee Kia and also to conductor Tian Hui for choosing to do this version!

The mystery of the missing soprano was solved when Shing Min walked down to the soloist’s position from the chorus for the narrative of the nativity story. Her vocal projection was bigger than her small frame. Diction was immaculate. The timbre was a bit steely and bright but yet warm in interpretation. I did a double take when she stole 2 breaths in the long melisma of Rejoice greatly without missing any notes!! How was that possible?

As for the overall performance, I am certainly grateful to be watching such a good performance of the work by a small but yet competent force, despite a number of ‘accidents’. The choice of performance space, again, was wonderful. For me, the general tempi was too slow for some numbers, such as the slow section of the sinfonia (might be ok for larger forces), But who may abide, Let us break their bonds and thou art gone up on high. Nonetheless, thank you, Tian Hui and company, for putting on a most enjoyable performance. More of this please!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sarah Brightman's Eternal Shame

For a quick laugh, here is a pre-Phantom Sarah Brightman 'singing' I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper". Just the sight of her gyrating in a bodysuit is enough to cheer you up!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lan Shui in Taipei

As a stranger in a foreign land, you'd probably put it down to homesickness when you are contemplating doing something uniquely Singaporean that you wouldn't otherwise do if you had never left home, such as watching Maestro Lan Shui conduct a Mahler symphony without any vocal parts (only this time with the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra (NTSO) in the composer's first symphony Titan). Maestro Lan has been bringing his trademark Mahler speciality to the NTSO recently and will assume the post of artistic consultant in 2011, news that the NTSO announced with much fanfare (well as much fanfare as the classical media can conjure up anyway), though the orchestra that Maestro Lan conducts more often only warranted a passing mention. But until Alexander Souptel, Lynette Seah and company make their way here (hopefully with my beloved SSC as well), I guess this will have to do in the meantime.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mahler - The People's Edition

Its finally out! Mahler: The People's Edition is another triumph of democracy where music lovers get to vote for their favourite recording of each Mahler symphony, as owned by the two classical music giants of DG and Decca, to be included in this set. The Mad Scene reported the voting process here. Adding to the cool factor, voters who have picked the winning entries are named co-producers on the CD inserts. Click on this link to see which recordings made the cut.

Monday, December 13, 2010

YouTube Symphony 2011

The YouTube Symphony Orchestra makes a return with a concert on March 2011, this time at the Sydney Opera House with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting. The new piece this time is the funky Mothership by American composer Mason Bates, known for combining classical music with underground electronica (he's the DJ in the video). We at The Mad Scene is still in love with Tan Dun's Eroica Internet Symphony from the inaugural concert at Carnegie Hall but is quite taken with this one too. Voting is open now so log on to YouTube and help decide who gets to make it to Sydney!

Now The Mad Scene would love to see a Singaporean contestant make the trip so if you have submitted a video, why not post the URL in the comments or email us at We'll love to help you out!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Opera Siam's Carmen in Rehearsal

Here is some interesting rehearsal footage of Opera Siam's Carmen, as part of their World Opera Week festivities. We get to catch local mezzo Grace Echauri and Stefan Sanchez's Escamillio in action. No sight of Nancy "La Yuen" as Micaela though. You can watch the videos on their FaceBook page here:

Act 1 Rehearsal
Act 2 Rehearsal

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Messiah by the Voices of the East Indies

Its that time of the year when Messiah is on the concert calendar again. But this year's offering promises to be a little different: presented by the newly formed Voices of the East Indies, their Messiah on 22 December features only a 20 member cast and is held at the intimate venue of the Arts House's Chamber. The chorus is made up of  a number of young professional singers led by Ng Tian Hui as conductor and Yap Shing Min (soprano), Phua Ee Kia (countertenor), Melvin Tan (tenor) and William Lim (baritone) as the night's soloists. Sounds like a promising presentation and a group to watch out for. Check out the Events Page for details.

You may also find out more about the group at their website

Saturday, December 4, 2010

High School Opera

I just spent the evening with a bunch of adolescents from Xin Dian High School at the National Concert Hall to watch their school's annual opera production of Cavalleria Rusticana. Yes this high school actually had the resources to stage a full opera, even if its a really short one and in semi-staged concert format. While the cast consisted of professionals contracted locally and from the Mainland, the chorus and orchestra were made up of students and recent alumni. Sets consisted of not more than two chairs and a table. But nevermind the sparseness, the kids gave a spirited and surprisingly clean performance that wouldn't pale much in comparison with the pros (rehearsals apparently started during the holidays in August). If anything the kids were so rushed on performance adrenaline that at many moments they drowned out the poor Santuzza who is not exactly of small resources (but she still rocked nonetheless).

I attended partly as I've not seen a live Cav for some time (first and only time being the SLO's  production many years back with a magnificent can belto Yu Juxing as Turridu and a hyperactive bordering on camp Stella Zhou Ming Lun as Santuzza). I came away inspired at the quality of music making these kids gave, and wonder if the same can ever happen in Singapore.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tian Hao Jiang to Perform in Singapore!

I'm so excited to present the news that Metropolitan Opera singer Tian Hao Jiang will perform his one-man show From Mao to the Met on 16 and 17 December 2010. Long before Ziyi Zhang (formerly known as Zhang Ziyi) got kickstarted the Yankee's love for all things chinois,  Tian has been singing leading bass roles with the greatest opera stars of the day.  Held at the unsual location of Suntec City's Rock Auditorium, this show promises to be a departure from the formal recital format where Tian will share his life experience from growing up in the deeply communist China to become one of the first Asian opera stars in Western world, as well as play the guitar, accordion and piano. Tickets start at an extremely affordable price of $25. Its a pity that I won't be in town to catch this event, but I wouldn't miss it for the world if I were back home in Singapore! Check out the Events Page for tickets!

UPDATE: The show will be in English with Chinese songs featured in the program.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Mad Scene Supports Our Water Polo Boys

And its not just because they look hot in those trunks. Can the officials please stop representing us as some cave-dwelling Neanderthals to the rest of the world?

Friday, November 26, 2010

SLO January 2011 Carmen Cast Announced

While the SLO is celbrating its 25th wonderful years of opera-making tonight, I'm pleased to announce the cast of January's Carmen. With the exception of French Sophie Fourier and Chinese Huang Rong Hai, we have a cast of familiar faces here. Worth noting is that Li Yang, last seen in the minor role of Papagena, moves to leading lady status as Micaela. Satsuki Nagatomi, featured recently on The Mad Scene for her appearance in the breast cancer fundraiser Pink Beats, will be making her SLO debut as the gypsy girl Mercedes. Here's the cast list:

Carmen - Sophie Fournier (France)
Don Jose - Lee Jae Wook
Micaela - Li Yang
Escamillo - Huang Rong Hai
Zuniga - William Lim
Frasquita - Cherylene Liew
Mercedes - Satsuki Nagatomi
El Dancairo - Melvin Tan
Remendado - Peter Ong
Morales - Gabriel Pang

Director and Set Design - David Edwards
Conductor - Joshua Kangming Tan

The Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra
The Singapore Lyric Opera Chorus
The Singapore Lyric Opera Youth Choir
The Singapore Lyric Opera Children's Choir
Chorus Mistress - Khor Ai Ming

With additional male chorus from National Centre for Performing Arts, Beijing, People’s Republic of China


Wanna find out how the company will fare without the participation of La Yuen? Check out the Events Page for tickets!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wagner Playing Cards and Portraits

Why not? Since the master and his works has legions of fans in every generation... Check out Prospero Art's online gallery, whose designs come thankfully without any lightsabers or bathhouse settings. Maybe it'll be just what you need for Christmas!

Ring Playing Cards:
Wagner Playing Cards:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Win a Pair of SLO Tickets!!!

The Singapore Lyric Opera has generously sponsored a pair of tickets for their upcoming 20th Anniversary Gala (26 Nov, Friday) to readers of The Mad Scene. All you have to do, dear readers, is to send an email to, in not more than 3 paragraphs, your favourite SLO moment in their 20 year history. All entries will be posted in the comments section below (unlike the previous Wordpress program, Blogger does not allow for hidden email address hence the extra manual step.) Best entry as decided by The Mad Scene and the SLO wins the prize. You may use an alias but please provide your real name and mobile number.  You have till midnight of this coming Monday (22 November 2010) to make your contribution, so put on your creative writing cap now. Good luck!

Find out more about the SLO Anniversary Gala here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Immediately after recovering from the company's 20th Anniversary celebrations, the Singapore Lyric Opera Chorus will present a selection of classical Christmas tunes at Joy - A Musical Memory of the Holiday Season and of Christmas on 10 Dec 2010. Here's an excerpt from their press release to show us what to get excited about:


30 August, 2010– Experience joyous memories of this year’s festive season with the Singapore Lyric Opera’s (SLO) Christmas concert, Joy – A Musical Memory of the Holiday Season and of Christmas, at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 10 December, 2010.

The concert will feature adored Christmas classics, including Goodall’s The Lord is My Shepherd, Lowry-Greene’s Mary Do You Know, Meece’s We are the Reason, Webber’s Pie Jesu, Franck’s Panis Angelicus, O Come O Come Emmanuel, and The Little Drummer Boy.

Christmas is also a time for sharing, which is why the concert includes the ever-popular audience sing-a-long session, so that the joy of singing can be shared! Ms Ng Siew Eng, General Manager of Singapore Lyric Opera says, “We want to share the joy of Christmas and what Christmas really means. The songs chosen reflect the Christmas spirit. Most of us discover through the songs that Christmas is not about presents alone
but about friendship and love. We hope to spread the message of LOVE and JOY through our songs”. Conductors for the concert are Ms Khor Ai Ming and Associate Conductor Cherylene Liew.
Tickets are priced at $12, $18, $25 and $35. Limited 50%-subsidized Keppel Nights
tickets are available. Visit for more information.


Check out the Events Page for more details.

Monday, November 15, 2010

LANXESS SNYO Mentorship Program

Because news story have been a little slow vocal music wise (or most likely that I haven't been updating as much as I should), here's a press release from the Singapore National Youth Orchestra to keep us informed of what orchestra musicians get up to when not accompanying singers:


Largest classical music mentorship programme for youths in Singapore

§ French horn virtuoso to mentor more than 150 students
§ LANXESS SNYO Classic concert debuts on 30 November
§ Join online quiz to win 25 pairs of concert tickets
§ 3 SNYO students get close to classical artist in Europe

Singapore, 11 November, 2010 – The Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) is organizing the largest classical music mentorship programme for youths in Singapore from November 24 to 29. Under the invitation of German specialty chemicals company LANXESS, French horn virtuoso Stewart Rose will conduct a lecture demonstration and hold a series of master classes. Significantly, this is the first time the SNYO has offered its mentorship programme to all members of its orchestra and all students from local mainstream secondary schools and junior colleges.

More than 150 students are expected to attend the LANXESS SNYO Classic mentorship programme. At the lecture demonstration, Rose will share how he started on the French horn, how he prepares himself mentally for each concert, his practice regime and tips for those who wish to pursue a career as a performer. Additionally, he will conduct 6 master classes for roughly 30 students and participate in 6 rehearsal sessions with the full orchestra.

The Chairman of the SNYO Management Board, Dr. Kee Kirk Chin, says, “The LANXESS SNYO Classic is the most extensive mentorship programme for the SNYO and classical music scene in Singapore. From the beginning, LANXESS and the SNYO share a common wish to create an inclusive programme that will enable as many young talented musicians as possible to learn from the best. Given the small community of horn players in Singapore, we consider the response to the mentorship programme to be very good.”

For the SNYO, having a French horn artist as its mentor is a prized opportunity since it is easier to engage mentors skilled in more popular instruments, such as the violin.

Dr. Kee adds, “We are very grateful to LANXESS for introducing Rose to the SNYO, as the French horn is known to be the most challenging instrument in the orchestra, and experts in this area are hard to come by. We believe that having Rose as a mentor will go far in helping raise the profile of brass instrumentalists in Singapore and encourage aspiring musicians to adopt these instruments.”

These opportunities are made possible under the LANXESS SNYO Classic, a three-year mentorship and cultural exchange programme jointly developed by LANXESS and the SNYO to nurture Singapore’s young budding classical musicians.

After the week-long mentorship programme, Rose will perform with the SNYO at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 30 November. The guest-of-honour is Mr. Masagos Zulkifli, Minister of State for the Home Affairs and Education Ministries.

Tickets are available at all SISTIC counters at S$9 each. Additionally, the public can take part in an online quiz at, where 25 winners will each receive a pair of tickets and all-evening passes to the LANXESS Lounge for dinner and cocktail refreshments.

Ian Wood, Managing Director of LANXESS Pte. Ltd., says, “LANXESS is actively involved in developing young people─in the chemistry field and other areas, such as classical music. We are honored to extend our close relationships with many famous classical musicians to the SNYO, as we work together to nurture greater classical music talent and appreciation in Singapore.”

LANXESS’ support for classical music in Singapore is an extension of its worldwide efforts to nurture young talent through cultural exchange. In addition to the LANXESS SNYO Classic programme, the company has sponsored tours of China by the Young Euro Classic Orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra directed by Daniel Barenboim, and numerous other cultural, educational programme and events.

As part of the LANXESS SNYO Classic programme, 3 students will undergo a four-day study immersion trip to Italy in April 2011. They will be tutored by the renowned flautist Andrea Griminelli, visit music schools and attend concerts.
Please refer to Annex A, for a listing of participating schools for the LANXESS SNYO Classic 2010 lecture demonstration by Stewart Rose.

Singapore, 11 November 2010

About LANXESS SNYO Classic
The LANXESS SNYO Classic is a three-year mentorship and cultural exchange programme developed with the Singapore National Youth Orchestra. The programme is specially designed to enable young classical musicians to learn from a variety of world class artists skilled in different instruments. Each year,
a celebrated musician will work one-on-one with students in master classes and seminars as well as rehearsals and performances with the full orchestra at a celebratory public concert. In addition, outstanding orchestra members will be selected by the tutors of the SNYO annually to participate in study trips to North America or Europe, where they will receive lessons from leading instructors and top classical musicians.

LANXESS is a leading specialty chemicals company with sales of EUR 5.06 billion in 2009 and currently around 14,500 employees in 23 countries. The company is represented at 42 production sites worldwide. The core business of LANXESS is the development, manufacturing and marketing of plastics, rubber, intermediates and specialty chemicals.

Singapore National Youth Orchestra

The Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) is a National Project of Excellence under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. The orchestra comes under the purview of the Co-Curricular Activities Branch, Education Programmes Division, Ministry of Education. The orchestra is a non-profit organisation and is funded entirely by the Ministry of Education.

Members of the SNYO come from primary and secondary schools, junior colleges, international schools and tertiary institutions. The aim of the SNYO is to provide each student with an exemplary orchestral experience and the highest quality professional music education and training. As part of the holistic approach to the education system, SNYO aims to inspire and nurture career-minded musicians, enthusiastic amateurs and dedicated music lovers.

Forward-Looking Statement

This news release may contain forward-looking statements based on current assumptions and forecasts made by LANXESS AG management. Various known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors could lead to material differences between the actual future results, financial situation, development or performance of the company and the estimates given here. The company assumes no liability whatsoever to update these forward-looking statements or to conform them to future events or developments.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Church Recital on 29 November 2010

I guess its about time to go public...

My first recital in a foreign country (or whatever you want to refer to Taiwan as), singing arias from Elijah, The Magic Flute, Christmas Oratorio and The Marriage of Figaro, accompanied on piano and pipe organ. Wish me luck!

Tom Hanks Explains Why Callas Rocks

So we were made to watch the movie Philadelphia during our human rights class (a compulsory module's more annoying than anything else since its many assignments take me away from practice time), to learn more about the American justice system (compared to the Taiwanese's), and gay and AIDS discrimination. Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his portrayal of an AIDS victim suing his company for wrongful discharge, but I really think the winning break was this scene where he showed us how he could understand and portray a person's fanatical love for opera and Maria Callas. Very impressive.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joy to the World - a Christmas Concert

As Christmas is around the corner, here's a concert that promises to bring the festive joy to you. Baritone Matthew Chua and soprano Xiang Ting bring you favourite Christmas songs and arias, accompanied by pipe organ and piano. Here's a preview of what's to come:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shirley Verrett, 1931-2010

Alas, another one of my all-time favourites has passed away. This is what I will remember of the great mezzo cum soprano the most, her phenomenal Lady Macbeth at La Scala with Cappucilli and Abbado. Hope it'll be available on DVD soon:

Here's another wonderful testament of her powers, a sequence from her Met telecast of Tosca with Pavarotti. This one has actually been released on DVD recently so do look out for it!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

SLO 20th Anniversary Gala

The SLO's special 20th Anniversary gala concert 20 Years Of Grand Opera will be held on 26 November 2010. This promises to be an exciting event where stars from recent and vintage productions reprise their success with the company. On the bill are Lee Jae Wook, Ee-Ping, Jessica Chen, Anna Koor, William Lim, Leow Siak Fah, Song Kee Chang, Lamuel dela Cruz and Nancy Yuen. Here is an excerpt from their official press release:


Operatic Excellence, 20 Years of Grand Opera
November 26, 2010
Esplanade Concert Hall

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jose Carerras Interview on Youtube:

No The Mad Scene hasn't forgotten that Jose Carreras is appearing here soon; in fact I've tried to get an interview with him, but that didn't work out very well. To make up for it, here's an interview that he's done recently on Korean television, where he discusses among many things the passing of his friend Pavarotti and recovering from leukemia:

Check out the Events Page for more information on his concert here.

Taiwan Gay Pride Parade

This is not opera-related but I've had so much fun marching along with these happy campers that I thought of sharing my pics here with you. The event got off a rousing start at 2pm as the procession went through the hip Ximenting area, to the thumping beats of Madonna, Mariah and their younger disciples. Somehow I bumped into a bunch of friends from school and marched with them for about 2 hours before retreating from the cold weather and drizzling rain. While I really hope that I won't fall sick tomorrow, I have to say that it was a lot of fun in support of a worthy cause.

Check out the rest of my pictures here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teenage Boy Aspires to be Queen

This seems to be the most popular viral video in Taiwan at the moment: check out this 15 year old boy's pitch perfect Queen of the Night!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Interview with Gabrielle Maes

Hot off her recent sccess in the breast cancer fndraiser Pink Beats, Canadian Gabrielle Maes is staging her solo performance of Kurt Weill's songs in a cabaret presentation. Titled Kurt Weill Cabaret, an Homage to Wayward Women, this show will also be her stage farewell to Singapore as she will be moving to the States soon.

Now The Mad Scene doesn't usually run two interviews with the same personality within such a short time period, but given the circumstances I think its understandable that I would like Singaporean audiences to get to know Gabrielle better while she is still here. Having heard her sing wonderfully in many genres, from a dazzling Una voce poco fa to a heartfelt Cry Me a River, I think this show will be a great opportunity for us to catch her in action while we still can. So here goes our interview:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Salzburg's Marriage of Figaro

This 2007 release of this Marriage of Figaro from the Salzburg Festival's celebration of Mozart's anniversary is just about the most pointless production I've had the misfortune to witness. Never has such a promising, star-studded cast been wasted on the mismanagement of both conductor and director. But this is not a failure due to incompetency of those at the top, rather its a well thought-out, finely honed and ultimately successful attempt to drain all life and joy out of this most beloved of operatic comedies.

Director Claus Guth directed the proceedings with so much solemnity that you'd think its a production of Tristan instead. This being Salzburg in the modern day, a fair bit of weirdness is probably expected; so we having Figaro cutting open Cherubino's arm while the Count holds him during Non piu andrai and smearing blood all over his face,  and Cherubino later making out with both Susanna and the Countess during Susanna's make-up aria (his arm mysteriously healed in the preceeding interval). Every performer sings with a dazed facial expression, especially in the drearily slow recitatives, as if they were all speedballing cocaine laced with marijuana (thanks Whitney!) Poor Bo Skovhus as the Count had to sing Hai gia vinta la causa while a male fairy sits in his left shoulder and shoves his crotch into his neck. Little wonder then that he declaims the aria more than sings it.

As for the singers, its rare these days for any company to have assembled a top notch cast that includes Anna Netrebko as Susanna (Mozart figured quite a bit in her early career but has since taken a back seat after she has became a star), Dorothea Roschmann as the Countess, Christine Schaefer as Cherubino, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo as Figaro and as mentioned above, Bo Skovhus as the Count. I hesitate to judge their assumption of these famous roles based on this production. Suffice to day that they are mostly in good voice, with vocal resources more than sufficient for their parts; everyone looked chic and sohpisticated in their suits and gowns, and a pre-pregnancy Anna Netrebko looked especially fetching in her maid's outfit. However, I do not recommend this DVD nor the audio CD release at all, whether you are a fan or not, unless you are having a masochistic frame of mind.

Gabrielle Maes sings Kurt Weill Songs

Click to enlarge

Canadian mezzo-sporano and musical theatre singer Gabrielle Maes presents Cabaret Kurt Weill, An Homage to Wayward Women this coming Friday, 29 October 2010. Last seen recently at the breastcancer fundraiser Pink Beats, this will be Gabrielle's last performance before moving out of Singapore. She has extensive experience performing all over the world, so its a great chance to catch a wonderful performer while she is still here. Click on the image above for more details.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Maestro on Speed

You've got to admire the members of this orchestra for being able to play in time despite this erm...hyperactive maestro.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Houston's Opera Vista

The story of how a Bangkok-based composer saved an American opera company from going bankrupt - by composing a new opera that requires an elephant! A true story of how artistic merit can actually be profitable. other opera companies should start taking notes:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

OMG Free PDF Scores!!!

So I was searching for a piano-vocal score of Bach's cantata Ich Habe Genug; the edition for full orchestra is widely available but I've yet to find an arrangement for vocal-piano at brick-and-mortar stores, so I decided to go online to find a store and buy it. Thank goodness then that the first result of my search yielded, where I could download the entire 3 movement work on PDF for FREE! Its a great resource and doesn't even require signing up! Many pieces for various instruments and ensembles are available, including full scores of Messiah and Semele. Go check it out!

Also, do take a look at for more freebies. Special thanks to my friend Zhi Bin for the tip.

Monday, October 11, 2010

RIP La Stupenda

Wow its the end of an era. Dame Joan Sutherland was born in 1926 and went on to wow the world with her stupendous voice. As a tribute from The Mad Scene, let's go back to where it all began: a recording from THAT debut run of Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden in 1959:

For something a little off the beaten track, I recommend opera critic Sonny Lim's 2007 feature about Dame Joan, as published on his blog Opera Recordings.

News source: Sydney Morning Herald via Parterre Box.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Choral Concert this Sunday - Manila, ManiLAH!

PsalmiDeo, a choral group made up of largely Filipino expats, will be staging Manila, ManiLAH! Now we know that our Filipino friends have wonderful voices - our SLO productions would only have 5 choir members left if not for their participation - so this is a great opportunity to see them take centrestage (quite a few SLO choir members belong to this group as well). Here is a brief but impressive list of what PsalmiDeo has achieved since coming together in 2003:

  • October 2010 - SCO Ensemble Series 2010 at the Singapore Conference Hall's Concourse;
  • August 2010 – Singapore Heritage Fest 2010, Suntec City Atrium;
  • June 2010 – Philippine Independence day celebrations at the Philippine Embassy, Singapore;
  • June 2010 - Collaboration with Rose Borromeo Spanish Dance Company, Dance Circle Studios and SaltShaker Productions, “Noche de Estrellas” Spanish fiesta at Villa Frangipani, Gilman Village;
  • November 2009 and January 2010 – participation in the events to commemorate 40 years of Philippine-Singapore diplomatic relations (November 2009 – Asian Civilizations Museum; January 2010 – Singapore Arts Museum);
  • December 2008 and 2009 - performance with Ms. Babes Conde at the Esplanade Open Amphitheatre during the “Celebrate December” activities;
  • June 2007 - Philippine Art Trek (part of a series of Philippine Independence day celebrations), at the ARtrium of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA);
  • June 2006 - Philippine Independence day celebrations at the Kallang Theater
  • December 2005 - the group’s first concert at the Singapore Arts House;
  • March 2005 - Guest appearance at “Babes & Friends” with Ms. Conde at the Esplanade Concert Hall;
  • October 2004 – represented the Philippines at the United Nations General Assembly in 2004 (at request of the Philippine Embassy);
  • July 2003 - represented the Philippines at the ASEAN@Play sports event (at the request of the Philippine Embassy)

The Mad Scene speaks to conductor Kiko Dimalanta about the show:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Opera Siam (formerly Bangkok Opera) Rebrands, Launches World Opera Week

The company formerly known as Bangkok Opera will now be known as Opera Siam. In conjunction with this new image is the launch of World Opera Week, a series of productions from 16 to 22 December including a visit from Opera Vista Houston, who will be presenting Somtow's opera The Silent Prince. The local company will also present a new production of Carmen by Darren Royston, starring Grace Echauri and Nancy Yuen. So if you really CAN'T WAIT to catch La Yuen's Micaela, here's where you can get more information.

Here is Grace Echauri singing a duet from José Pablo Moncayo's opera La Mulata de Cordoba with Rollando Villazon:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pink Beats Interviews

Pink Beats takes place this coming Thursday, 7 October 2010. Three different concerts bringing together artistes from over the world and featuring numerous genres, all coming together to raise money and awareness for breast cancer (read more about the concert here). The Mad Scene is pleased to introduce two featured artistes:

Gabrielle Maes

Originally from Canada, Gabrielle Maes is a charismatic and multi-talented performer who's training and career has brought her to England, Jerusalem, Malaysia and Singapore in addition to her native Canada. Currently teaching musical theatre at LASELLE SIA, she will be featured in the cabaret section of the evening. You can find out more about Gabrielle and hear her sing on her website

The Mad Scene: Hi Gabrielle, thank you for doing this interview with The Mad Scene. Firstly, tell us what is your experience in classical vocal music, and how did you end up here in Singapore?

Gabrielle: I studied early music in Canada. I have a graduate degree in it. I ended up in Singapore because my husband took a job here, and we were looking for interesting places to live. Singapore definitely lives up to the standard of interesting! Also, so I could work doing what I do best. Singing of course!

The Mad Scene: What pieces would you be performing for us that evening?

Gabrielle: Actually, I will be singing in the cabaret part of this show. There are three sections, so the audience has the pleasure of moving around each station and being entertained by a bunch of great musicians who do everything from jazz to grand opera.

The Mad Scene: Describe your voices for those of us who have not heard you.

Gabrielle: I have many voices…hehehe..I am pretty versatile. You have to be in order to survive the entertainment business, or at least make a living doing so. I have done everything from opera to musical theatre, from comedy to very serious stuff. I am a mezzo, but will sing whatever I enjoy!

The Mad Scene: This event is a fundraiser for breast cancer. Please tell us what breast cancer and early prevention means to you as a woman and singer.

Gabrielle: Its ironic that I am singing this show. My sister who I love with all my heart has breast cancer now, and is struggling through all the standard procedures. She has just undergone a mastectomy. She basically raised me when my mother died of ovarian cancer when I was eight. Breast cancer runs in my family, so I am fastidious about checking myself regularly. Also, most breast cancer is not genetic, so it is very important to bring breast cancer awareness to women. Come to think of it, I am due for a check now!

The Mad Scene: Who are your favourite singers, classical or otherwise? And why?

Gabrielle: I love Victoria de los Angeles for her natural warm sound, and her genuine musicality. Nina Simone for her great musical intelligence, and Patti Lupone for her powerful voice and theatrical presence. Those are three women off the top of my head. The list goes on and on and on..

The Mad Scene: Lastly, tell us why should we all come attend Pink Beats on 7 Oct 2010?

Gabrielle: Because the show will be fantastic!! You will have some of the best women in Singapore strutting their stuff. Sexy cancan dancers , a bit of comedy, dramatic opera arias for the more sophisticated, cabaret for the marginal folk…Its going to be a blast, and you can contribute to a very important cause! Keeping man’s best friend healthy!!


Soprano Satsuki Nagatome started classical singing since she was 7, with the famous NHK orchestra's children's choir no less. Now settled in Singapore for work, Satsuki glad to take part in this series of performances in order to raise awareness for this disease that is very close to her heart.

The Mad Scene: Hi Satsuki! Thank you for doing this interview with The Mad Scene. Firstly, tell us what is your experience in classical vocal music, and how you ended up here in Singapore?

Satsuki: I started classical vocal training as a member of NHK Tokyo Broadcasting Children's Chorus at the age of 7, for 13 years. I had a chance to work in Singapore one day, so I came here. I’ve always been attracted to Singapore. While I was working here, I joined TPCC in 2000 and the SLO choir in 2001. I started classical vocal training as a soloist from 2002 under Mr Lim Shieh Yih, and now I’m studying as an opera singer under Ms Khor Ai Ming.

The Mad Scene: What pieces would you be performing for us that evening?

Satsuki: I will be singing the Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes together with Ms Khor Ai Ming.
As a solo number, I will be singing Song to the Moon from Rusalka by A.Dvorak.

The Mad Scene: Describe your voices for those of us who have not heard you.

Satsuki: I thing my voice is brighter than the operatic voice we often hear, maybe because of my background in children’s songs and musicals rather than classical songs. I believe you can recognize my voice after hearing it for just one time (I hope tonight??).

The Mad Scene: This event is a fundraiser for breast cancer. Please tell us what breast cancer and early prevention means to you as a woman and singer.

Satsuki: I have a few friends who have breast cancer. It’s a serious and familiar problem for all women, not just a few. And for a singer, having good health is the most important thing. So I believe early prevention can help us a lot.

The Mad Scene: Who are your favourite singers, classical or otherwise? And why?

Satsuki: Actually I have many favorites, but if I need to choose only one, it would be Renee Fleming. I really love her performance when she sang Song to the Moon, and this is one of the reasons why I’ve decided to sing this number in the concert.

The Mad Scene: As our e-zine is called The Mad Scene, please tell us what is your favourite mad scene, and why?

Satsuki: I’m not sure what my favourite mad scene is, but I love The Mad Scene because I can find lots of information about local musicians like us!!

The Mad Scene: Lastly, tell us why should we all come attend Pink Beats on 7 Oct 2010?

Satsuki: You can enjoy performances by a cast of 13 artists from 8 nationalities, and all women! Opera, classical, jazz, blues, pop, and cabaret all in one night!! It’s a rare chance!! You must come to watch us!!


Hear that fellas? Once again, Pink Beats is on this coming Thursday, 7 October. Ticketing information available on the Events Page.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Well its the end of another long, tiring day. Now that the 2nd school year is in full swing, its been a non-stop whirl of work and practice since coming back on 1 September.

Now that I've been here for a year and starting another, the original sense of adventure and new beginnings are gone, replaced by an almost panicky desire to make the most of my time here.  Its of course my own choice to pursue music as a second career, so now I have to bear the consequences and make the best of it. Thing is, without the foundation that my classmates have, the cracks are really starting to show especially now that schoolwork is getting more demanding: sight-singing, harmony, piano playing, choir practice... trying not only to pass but to do well in these classes is akin to not just learning to run before learning to walk, but learning to sprint! All this only means endless hours in the practice studio, sometimes up to10 hours on a weekend or public holiday.

Strangely though not so much of it is spent on the the minutiae of vocal technique, as this is at least an area that I have some experience with, and the pressure to achieve competence in a short amount of time is not so strong. So to improve on this aspect, I've decided to plan a recital in November, which then means even more  work to be done, artistic and logistically speaking.

But while I believe that I've done my best in the past year, I'm determined to outdo myself this year. Yet practising this year somehow took on a whole new meaning, now that the novelty of this new life as a music student is gone and a bit of monotony is setting in. So discipline is another habit that needs working on. Yet somehow, all this work, in addition to being a means to achieve an end of competence and abilities for a career, has took on a meditative quality that seems to become a need to my mental well-being. Away from home, from friends, family and all entertainments, distractions and societal pressures, it seems that my life as I knew it till now has been suspended for the time being, while this morphing of sorts is taking place.

So yeah that's all I have to rant tonight. Going to get a good rest and get back to work tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Alexandrina Pendatchanska's Amina

Reknown spitfire Alexandrina Pendatchanska takes a prozac and sings the optimistic final scene from La Sonnambula:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Darrell Ang - Classical Idol

So like its the start of the new school year which means a new batch of fresh meat men and women are settling down on campus. My new schoomate Chen-Chen, upon learning that there's a Singaporean among us, wasted no time to gush about what a wonderful summer he has had learning in the TSO (Taipei Symphony) Youth Orchestra Camp under the guidance of Darrell Ang. This is apparently Darrell's second time conducting the camp and has seemed to have won over many students; he will be returning soon for a few orchestra concerts and our besotted fanboy here has already secured tickets with his orchestra mates to see his new idol in action. Looks like Darrell has achieved what Stephanie Sun and JJ Lin has done in their respective fields, becoming the classical version of a Taiwanese teen idol!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Here's something on my must-buy list. The Royal Opera's production of Faust by David McVicar in the 90s, starring the then dream cast of ROH favourites Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna and Bryn Terfel, conducted by Antonio Pappano. This production was filmed and broadcast on TV 5 years ago but Lord knows why it took so long it to be released on video, maybe it has something to do with Angie's famous dislike for blond wigs. Hope it reaches stores in Taiwan and Singapore soon!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Clear Skies

Well it seems the worst is over. Its probably a good idea that I'm secluded in the school most of the time since the elements leave it pretty intact, away from the heavy winds and heavy rain that so heavily affected other parts of the country. Meanwhile, here's an example of the damage wrecked by Typhoon Fanapi:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Typhoon Day 1

Typhoon Fanapi has officially struck Taiwan today, as can be seen by the non-stop rain and heavy winds outside my dorm room. But really its nothing that an umbrella wouldn't solve, which means that we in Taipei have been lucky so far. I  was almost tempted to dump my umbrella and sing a passage of Norma just like what Montserrat Caballe did. Meanwhile, news reports from other towns show footage of trees and traffic lights being uprooted, cars and trucks overturned and construction projects simply blown away. Day 2 promises to bring more mayhem as Fanapi makes its way across the island toward the Mainland. I've dutifully stocked up on food supplies as advised by the media, so let's see what new surprises will happen tomorrow.


Small typhoon in October 2009

One thing about Taiwan that is not often mentioned in their tourism ads is how temperamental their weather can be. Right now news reports going overtime as the nation gears up for what is expected to be a really strong typhoon. After the bad rep on negligence the last time, the authorities are taking no chances this time round, even activating the army to build barriades and conduct evacuation measures. The school too has installed metal stops on all basement-level entrances to prevent the underground levels from being submerged. Our hostel has taped up its glass doors so that in the event the winds actually break the glass, the shards wouldn't fly too far (yeah I know!)

With all this paranoia going around, I'm not quite sure what to make of it since this is my first major typhoon (I've been through a mild one where its basically just non-stop drizzling for 3 days). My roomies though are rather relaxed: they have been through every typhoon imaginable and are rather used to it as earthquakes and typhoons are a frequent occurrence here. The typhoon will officially hit Taiwan sometime tonight; it has been drizzling non-stop today which is probably a foretaste of greater things to come. Wonder what's in store? Let's wait and see...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Taiwan's NSO Season Opener

OK I rarely talk about concerts I've attended in Taipei but since there's hardly anything to talk about these days, why not start from here? I've just returned from a wonderful performance of Mahler's 5th by the National Symphony Orchestra. This evening was quite an event for 2 big reasons: Its opening night of their 2010/2011 season, and more importantly it marks the first concert conducted by their new artistic director Lü Shao-Chia (呂紹嘉), in the first season fully programmed by him. Spotted among the bevy of musical VIPs is our very own Darrell Ang, who seems to have quite a following among the young students here (more on that in future posts).

As it is, audiences tonight were bowled over by the finely drawn-out performance: a highly spirited delivery that enthralled and moved in such a way that only a well-prepared concert of Mahler can give. Filling up the program was the world premiere of I-Uen Wang Hwang's Diptych of Taiwan which made-up the first half: it was a delightful tonal portrait of sunset at Gaun-Yin Mountain and the annual Ma Zu parade.

Lü's experience is marked by many years spent at the Komische Oper Berlin, as well as appearances in the opera houses of Sydney, ENO, Brussels, Hamburg and Stuttgart. With such a wealth of experience in opera, one would hope for more adventurous programming of vocal music.Elektra and Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn is already on this season's program, but the one I'm most looking forward to attending is Britten's gargatuan War Requiem (check out the Events Page). It certainly looks like an exciting season ahead!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Maria Callas's Lucia Through The Years

As today is the 33th death anniversary of the passing of the great Maria Callas, here's a special tribute to her: a compilation of 10 performances of the final seconds of Lucia di Lammermoor, collected from recordings from 1952 to 1959, i.e. pre and post weight loss (1955). The clips are arranged in this order:

10 June Mexico
10 June Mexico (encore)
26 June Mexico
1953 Studio Recording
Milano 1954
Berlin 1955
Napoli 1956
New York 1956
Roma 1957
1959 Studio Recording

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Madonna" by Secret

Not opera related

You know that an Asian girl-band has big plans to go international when they release a single inspired by the biggest pop star of them all. Throw in a couple of snazzy dance moves that are hard enough but not too difficult for amatuer dancers to copy and perform in clubs and holiday camps and you've got a sure-fire hit. Wonder what the lyrics mean though...

Friday, September 10, 2010

7 October 2010 - "Pink Beats" - A Fundraiser for Breast Cancer

Click to enlarge

ArsMedia presents Pink Beats, an interactive performance featuring 3 concerts in one evening, for the price of only one ticket! All proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Foundation. This is an event by women for women. Venue is at various halls of The Arts House. The line-up is as follows:

Blue Room: Operatta and Art Songs
Italian Sabrina Zauber, French Florence Coullet and Austalian Nicole Stinton, last seen in operettas concert Belle Epoque, will present operetta and arts songs, in the spirit of the Moulin Rouge,

Living Room: Jazz and Cabaret
The line-up for this segment are Greek Christina MaragkakiAndayoma, French jazz professional who launched her latest album 'Palette of Colours in May at The Arts House; and Canadian Gabrielle Maes, recently arrived in Singapore and also classically trained mezzo soprano with a strong passion for cabaret music, she currently teaches musical theatre at LASELLE.

The Chamber: Classics
Performers in this segment are Korean soprano Jeong Ae Ree, acclaimed soloist as well as vocal coach of many talents in Singapore, teacher at SOTA as well; Japanese soprano Satsuki Nagatome, soloist and the only professional flamenco vocalist in town; Singaporean Khor Ai Ming, soloist and chorus mistress of the SLO choruses, and French flutist Marielle Manet, who arrived in Singapore one year ago.

Sounds exciting huh! Ticket prices are $100 each, a hefty price tag probably but note that you'll get to watch 3 different concerts by professionals, and that all sales proceeds go to charity. Lovers of the female voice should not give this a miss, and chalk up a few karma points while you're at it! Ticketing information available on the Events Page. 3 types of tickets are on sale, buy based the order you would like to watch the concerts.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

LASALLE's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

I'm quite excited to introduce the LASALLE musical theatre faculty's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, opening next week. Having caught their previous productions Urinetown and a cabaret presentation, I am seriously impressed by the professional standards they showed. So I'm glad to see that they have chosen this lovely ensemble piece for their next production. I've seen another production of this musical and enjoyed it tremendously (which you can read about here). Its a great piece, Tony Award winner actually, that's perfect for this highly trained and talented bunch. So wish I could be here to watch it again. Find out more information about this show on the Events Page.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Domingo singing "Cortigiani"

This aria IMHO is really the heart of the opera (not La donna e mobile, contrary to popular belief). One of the most touching arias in the operatic repertoire. Traslations can be found here:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Domingo's Take on "Rigoletto"

Act 1 was only just performed yesterday and now its on YouTube! Here's Placido Domingo's much hyped live movie performance as Rigoletto. IMHO he still sounds like a tenor singing low, at times resorting to nasal effects for resonance in the lower registers, but he really gets the role and sounds much at home singing Verdi, more so than his earlier efforts in Handel, Mozart, Gluck and Tan Dun.

Here's a glimpse of how his other co-stars Vittorio Grigolo and Julia Novikova fared.

Caro Nome

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Renee Fleming’s “Dark Hope”

Track List:

1. Endlessly
2. No One's Gonna Love You
3. Oxygen
4. Today
5. Intervention
6. With Twilight As My Guide
7. Mad World
8. In Your Eyes
9. Stepping Stone
10. Soul Meets Body
11. Hallelujah

I have to say that I have enjoyed this CD tremendously! Some might think of this as a novelty record, but taken on its own terms its still quite a well-produced package.

Now I have never been a fan of indie rock, so how well Renee sings these songs compared to their original versions is unknown to me, and not really an issue in any case since I will never check them out myself if left to my own devices. Thus this CD presents an opportunity for me to explore great music from another genre, guided by the hand of a trusted artist that I am familiar with.

It has to be said though that once the listener gets over how different she sounds compared to her regular work, the vocal performance itself is not much of a showcase. One certainly shouldn’t expect belting histrionics like that of a Mariah Carey or Celine Dion, nor should you expect any interpolated high Cs. Rather, there’s a feeling of conscious effort not to venture into the head voice and sound “operatic” (except for one number for spooky effect), but otherwise her vocalisms mostly fall into the “safe” category.

But what she does bring to the table are fundamentals of good singing that are often taken as a luxury in most rock music, and what makes this such an enjoyable listen: crystal clear pronunciation (lyrics are provided in the CD booklet but hardly necessary), fuss-free musicality that still brings out the most in the tunes and lyrics, and a solid technique that never quavers no matter how high or loud it goes (certainly none of the growling or whining that we hear in so many pop-singers these days). Ironically these are the very qualities that Renee is criticized for lacking in her classical recordings, which goes to show that the occasional step off the beaten track can be benefitial.

David Kahne’s production is equally clean and wholesome, with a steady rock beat and guitars dressed-up with techno beeps and whirls. Perhaps these production values might seem anesthetic to true lovers of this genre, but the slick and attractive production is appreciated by a listener of Renee’s other recordings.

There are many highlights on this album, among them the Endlessly, the first single and Renee’s only attempt at dance music, the hippie optimism of Oxygen, Intervention is a sarcastic critique of (Christian) religious extremism from a family member’s eyes, the spooky With Twilight as My Guide (the one about honour killings where Renee sings “Devil Daughters”), and the gospel tinged In Your Eyes. A fun fact is that Renee's two daughters, Amelia and Sage, and her sister Rachelle sang back-up vocals (the diva probably made it a pre-requisite before signing on). Truth is that I’ve listened to this entire album numerous times in the past month and have enjoyed it tremendously, and so highly recommend that you give it a chance.