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.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Grace Bumbry Masterclass

Here's something that I'm enjoying recently, a masterclass with Grace Bumbry. Unlike the man-eater image of her stage persona, Mme. Bumbry as a mentor is quite a caring if strict mother-figure. If you are a singer with 2 hours to spare, I believe you will gain something out of it too:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Our Third Anniversary

Ah yes, 3 years! Gosh how fast time has flown. The big date is actually 1 Sep, but as I had spent much of the time flying and having internet problems in the hostel (yes I'm back in Taipei now), its only now that I'm writing about it. But that didn't stop other sites from reporting the BIG DAY though. You've read Tou Liang's interview, now here's another article by Derek Lim on the Flying Inkpot, and to show that we are going international, one by Smorgzone from San Diego. Hope you enjoy them!