Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PsalmiDeo Chorale's Concert "Behind the Scenes"

I would write a lengthy post to explain what PsalmiDeo Chorale's next concert is about, but I think this cinematic-style trailer just about says it all:

Tickets and more information available on the Events Page.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Martin Ng Rocks Taiwan

I was glad to have attended this little private recital by students of Mdm Chu Tai-Li (i.e. Taiwan's prima donna and nicknamed the "Callas of the East"), just to witness the Taiwan debut of our very own Martin Ng. While the host of the evening played up his 'singing lawyer' bit to the amusement of the gathered crowd consisting of Taiwan's most respected teachers, our home-grown bass-baritone did not let us down with his rendition of the bass aria from La Sonnambula, stunning the audience with pitch-perfect coloratura sung at ear-splitting volumes. Give him a hand for doing our country proud!

Theatre Actor Sonny Lim on Maria Callas

This past Friday 16 September 2011 marked the 44th anniversary of Maria Callas's passing. Though much has been written about the influence La Divina had on the opera world, Sonny Lim's two loving essays are wonderful reads to remind us again why the world remains so fascinated by her art. Check them out here:

Maria Callas and the Grand Tradition

The Callas Butterfly and the Callas Traviata

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Opera Happenings in Taiwan for October

Its a strange coincidence of scheduling but this coming October will be a huge celebration of operatic activity in Taiwan. Vocal affectionados here can rejoice while those overseas can perhaps plan a trip to these parts. Here's a brief timeline of what's happening:

First up, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China with two performances of Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand from the 9th to 10th. Its not an opera but with Wagnerian Irene Theorin singing Soprano 1, many of the islands best voices in other solo parts and the title's promise of a thousand performers, the vocal junkie is in for just as big a treat.

Next up, the Opera Studio will bring us Massenet's very rarely heard opera Sapho on from the 13th to 16th in Taipei and 22nd to 23rd in Kaohsiung . The Opera Studio is kind of like the island's Young Artist Program, but with more leeway on the 'young' part. This double cast production will star Tai Hsiao-Chun, last heard in Singapore as the Queen of the Night with the SLO.

But then if such a rare opera is not your cup of tea, perhaps you would prefer to make a trip down to Taichung instead for a Uniquely Singaporean experience: Maestro Lan Shui conducting Beethoven's Fidelio on the 14th. Unfortunately there's no word on who's singing or whether the performance is staged or in concert, but if you can't wait till 18 Feb 2012 for the SSO's version, this would satiate your appetite for a while.

Lastly, those who love the spectacle and star power of grand opera will be clamouring to attend the TSO's Aida, featuring a mostly Italian cast including Juan Pons as Amonasro and Salvatore Licitra as Radames; or rather, would have starred Licitra were it not for his unfortunate demise from a motorbiking accident a few days ago. Tickets are sales suspended for the moment while management is figuring out what's the next step to take.

So yeah that's quite an impromtu opera festival we've got going here. Check out the Events Page for details and tickets, and do drop me an email if you'd like to drop by so we can go CD shopping and have a cup of tea!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Philippe Jaroussky sings Faure Requiem

Here's a somewhat unusual treat on a Saturday afternoon: Philippe Jaroussky's beautiful rendition of the Pie Jesu of Faure's Requiem.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Laurent Petitgirard's New Opera "Guru"

Guru – Premiered on Recording in 2011
An opera in three acts

Laurent Petitgirard (b. 1950)
Libretto by Xavier Maurel, based on an original idea by the composer
Publisher: OSF Productions

Guru - Hubert Claessens (bass-baritone)
Marie - Sonia Petrovna (actress)
Victor, Guru’s assistant - Philippe Do (tenor)
Iris, the child’s mother - Karen Wierzba (soprano)
Carelli, the sect ‘scientist’ - Philippe Kahn (bass)
Marthe, Guru’s mother - Marie-NoĆ«le Vidal (alto)

Budapest Studio Choir, Hungarian Symphony

Guru is the second opera by French composer Laurent Petitgirard and is a parable inspired by the American mass suicide of 918 people in Jonestown. While the plot does not state a specific time, place, nor culture (there are no references to traditional Asian cultures despite the titular character’s name) the hallmarks are apparently similar to how a cult typically forms: a secluded locale (a deserted island), a self-absorbed megalomaniac (the titular Guru), scheming accomplices and a mass of resigned, world-weary followers in search of some apparent greater truth. This recording is the world-premiere, released before a single live performance is staged.

According to the making-of video kindly provided by Naxos, Petitgirard and Maurel wrote this opera as a warning against those likely to join such cults. With that idea in mind, they set about creating a world where manipulation by a single person on a large group of people is possible, leading us into their thought processes and in turn questioning our own concept of reality.

Composer Petitgirard and librettist Maurel

The story starts with a group of new disciples arriving at the island where Guru holds court. His belief, which he shares with his breathren, is that human food containing calories and vitamins only prolong the decay of your mortal body, delaying your eventual release into the freedom of ‘transparency’. Hence he and his followers subsist on seawater, waiting for the day when Guru’s new-born son will become the first to attain this ‘transparency’ and lead the way for all of them to follow.

Foiling his plan are the other lead characters, including Marie, the sole contradictory figure without any ulterior motive (the composer has written her as a spoken character, albeit speaking fixed in rhythms to match the accompaniment, to reflect that she is the only sane character among this bunch of loonies), his accommodating mother who only saw too late how mad her son had became, Iris, mother of his new-born son, and Carelli and Victor who help to manipulate the disciples in return for what they believe to be monetary rewards. It eventually dawned on all of them that Guru is no longer a swindler but has come to believe in exactly what he preached, resulting in the highly dramatic and inevitable conclusion.

Musically speaking this opera is a sung-through series of monologues, the strange vocal lines composed to match speech patterns, while orchestration highlights the underlying mood of each line, shifting tempi and melodies rapidly according to what’s being sung. Having seen and reviewed the DVD of the composer’s first opera Joseph Merrick: Elephant Man ( and found it dithering in some places, I find this sophomore effort a much tighter experience, propelling the plot forward with urgent minimalist-style repetitions of key themes. I find his vocal writing as befuddling as before, the most melodic moments happening in the orchestra such as the preludes or when accompanying Marie’s spoken monologues.

Bass-baritone Hubert Claessons sings in a rough-and-tumble declamatory style, while Phillippe Do’s high tenor can match up to the Florezs and Brownlees any day. Karen Wierzba sings a lot of heart-wrenching well with her light, shimmering soprano. Marie’s hoarse declamation is rather unusual in a largely sung opera but her dramatic fireworks are quite breathtaking.

In short, this is not quite something you’d listen to on the train (unless you are very conversant in French), but if you can spare about 2 hours with the CD and its online translation, this promises to be quite a dramatic musical experience.