Monday, August 23, 2010

Looking Back at Melvin Tan's "Night Songs" and Victoria Chorale's In Song 10

I have to say that I came away really impressed by the high standard of music-making achieved in this recital. Melvin Tan and his accompanist Shane Thio weaved through a difficult program of complicated late romantic works by Berg, Strauss and Korngold with polished expertise, weaving their own difficult parts into a complete ensemble through a common musical thread. The voice was at once, clear, ringing, full and vibrant, passionately hurled through many obstacles in dynamics, high and low notes and chromatic musical lines, but never once sounding strained or off-pitch. Confidence and poise were the order of the day, as both performers kept a cool composure even as they meander through the most chromatic and technically challenging passages. Not even a sudden blackout mid-song could bring them down!

Special guest and classmate Colette Lam flew in from Hong Kong to guest in two sets by Debussy and Poulenc. A talented singer whose bio includes Pamina and Amina from La Sonnambula,  her full voice was a pleasure to hear in these whimsical, impressionistic works. Too bad she didn't interpolate any high e-flats! An extra bonus is the technical innovation of providing simultaneous translations via surtitles, something taken for granted in the opera house but not yet adopted in the concert hall. Its a relief to understand the German and Russian lyrics as the music progresses and not have to squint at the program in a darkened hall.

Two concerts over the same weekend might sound like too much of a good thing (especially considering that I have also attended 2 other concerts earlier and in the previous week), were it not for the high level of music making and programming in both concerts.

The Victoria Chorale (seen on their 21 August, 1 pm show) started their program for the first half with a series of "academic" contemporary works, settings of religious texts by Miskinis, Busto, S.S. Schutz, Ralph Hoffmann and Scroggins. Beyond achieving the standard choral hallmarks of clean, even and harmonised sound, what impressed most was how well-trained the singers are with their scores; no flipping through clear folders for this group cos everything is committed to memory. And to show how well-trained each member is, every number had a change in formation that sometimes had members of each voice part saperated from their group. Nonetheless the ensemble maintained perfect harmony with their conductor and each other.

The less-formal second half had members showing off their fashion sense with colourful, informal attire, presenting an a capella program of pop, spirituals and barbershop quartet-style arrangements. I thoought the first number, A Rainy Day by Martin Carbow and Jane Comerford, was a tad too 'school choir' for my taste with its clean lines and male voices echoing the females. However, the remaining ventures into 'un-classical' terrain fared a lot better. Not only did the singers blend beautifully as in the first half, they managed to pull off quite a bit of stage business without missing a beat, including a parody of the YOG cheer, and all this without their conductor to lead them. Many talented members also got to show off their solo voices throughout the show. They certainly lived up to their reputation as one of Singapore's best choirs today.

So there it was, two continuous days of good work from some of Singapore's best singing acts. Perhaps in addition to inviting the usual music critics, these talented performers can also invite the commitee members of the Youth Olympic Games, to show them that there are many singers in Singapore who can sing live. Just like how we expect our runners to run, actors to act and dancers to dance, I think its high time we trust our singers to actually do the job they are trained to do instead of having to fake it.


  1. I loved Melvin and Colette's recital - so varied in works performed and so convincingly carried off. Melvin is certainly one of our top vocal talents and should be congratulated for his very adventurous programming. Both pianists Shane Thio and Miranda Ong were marvellous and sensitive. An excellent recital all round.

  2. Nice to read about opera in another continent. i'm in the UK, and didn't even think of Asia as having a strong opera scene. Do you have any online footage or podcast anywhere?

  3. Hi Tchaikovsky, I don't have videos of this particular recital, but YouTube has lots of videos of singers popular in these parts. Just do a search on Nancy Yue, Lee Jae Wook, Warren Mok, Jessica Chen and Liao Changyong. Hope it help.


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