Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nancy Yuen on "La Traviata"

The Singapore Lyric Opera will be staging a brand new production of La Traviata this September, with Nancy Yuen reprising her role of Violetta, partnering Kota Murakami's Alfredo and Song Kee-Chang's  Germont. I got to speak to Nancy last week just a day after her performances of Mahler 8 in Bangkok, where she sang the demanding part of soprano I. We talked about Mahler, the opera scene in Hong Kong (where she is currently based), how she prepares for her upcoming Traviatas in Singapore, and the contemporary relevance of the opera's storyline.

The Mad Scene: Congratulations for successfully completing another performance, how was the Mahler 8 performance in Bangkok last night?

Nancy: Mahler 8 has been on my dream list and I cannot be happier with the performance on Wednesday 24th July 2013. It was a joy to be part of such a magnificent piece.

The Mad Scene: The part of Soprano 1 of Mahler’s 8th is usually associated with Wagnerian sopranos, was it a challenge for your lyric-spinto voice to match up to its demands dynamic wise?

Nancy: The conductor (Somtow Sucharitkul) told me that the reason I was hired to sing the soprano 1 solo part was because he knew that I would deliver a pianissimo top C. I believe in a fully supported voice as it will rise above the orchestra.

The Mad Scene: What’s the opera scene like in Hong Kong? How many full-time companies are there and how many productions do they put up a year? (and which productions have you sung in)?

Nancy: There is only one opera company in Hong Kong with full time admin staff, Opera Hong Kong, which produces two to three operas a year with government’s support and private sponsorships. Opera Hong Kong usually employs guest artists of international repute to sing the leading parts and local graduates to sing the supporting roles. There is another production company called, Musica Viva, which receives full government funding and produces one main opera and one or two smaller productions in sub-urban districts a year. The latter uses more local singers. I have performed the world premiere in the role of Soong Chingling (Dr. Sun Yat-Sen) in 2011 for Opera Hong Kong and the title role of Madama Butterfly for Musica Viva in 2008.

The ever successful annual Hong Kong Arts Festival usually brings in at least one, sometimes two, full production of operas from different parts of the world to Hong Kong in February and March.

with co-star Song Kee-Chang in Don Giovanni
The Mad Scene: This will be your third production of La Traviata for the SLO, how has your perception of Violetta changed over the years? (Is there anything about her character that you had assumed before but thought differently as you sung her more?)

Nancy: I always start every production afresh with no pre-conceived ideas. Working together with the director and fellow singers to make something unique on stage is our shared goal. We will have three weeks of rehearsals when we meet for some 6 hours a day to build up the character. With experience comes more depth of emotions and a wider range of expressiveness. The performance will always be different from the previous ones.

The Mad Scene: When Traviata was premiered it was deemed controversial for featuring ‘amoral’ characters onstage. Do you think that there are moral lessons to be learnt from it, especially for audiences in this day and age?

Nancy: The reason why La Traviata remains timeless apart from the wonderful music, is the storyline. Audience today may be more accepting to see ‘amoral’ characters appearing on stage but off stage the acceptance level socially of a person like Violetta remains a taboo.

The Mad Scene: Verdi had some very famous run-ins with the Italian censors while trying to stage his operas. The issue of media censorship continues to be a debate in our time, especially in Singapore, with certain ‘government approved topics’ given the spotlight, while issues such as GLBT themes, racial minorities, government official proclivities and others given minimal coverage or simply brushed off by the 'official' media. Are there lessons that modern audiences can learn from the initial failure and subsequent success of La Traviata?

That “life imitates art”. Music and theatre are to entertain and inspire those who are on stage as well as those who are watching them. On top of the digital world, I hope that the theatrical world will continue to challenge the thoughts of the audience.

The Mad Scene: Do you think that there are people leading lives similar to Violetta’s even in developed Asian countries such as Singapore or Hong Kong?

Nancy: There will always be real life characters like Violetta in all societies and in all parts of the world at any given time.

with co-star Kota Murakami in The Magic Flute
The Mad Scene: What other projects are on your schedule after Traviata in September?

Nancy: There are thankfully three different operas in the pipeline in 2014. In addition there is a series of concerts: two fund raising gala concerts, a Verdi Requiem and three concerts featuring Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder in December.

The Mad Scene: Since its Verdi and Wagner year, any operas or concert works of theirs that you would like to try but haven’t got the chance?

Nancy: I am fortunate enough to perform two operas by Verdi this year: my role debut of Desdemona in “Otello” in February and Violetta in September. I really enjoy listening to Wagner’s operas but have no illusion of wanting to perform any of the roles.

La Traviata runs on 6, 7, 9 and 10 September 2013. Check out the Events Page for details.

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