Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New Opera Singapore's 'Die Fledermaus' in Review

New Opera Singapore's Die Fledermaus is easily the funniest live opera production I've ever seen. A tightly rehearsed ensemble where individual contributions shine and still add to the sum of the whole.

As with previous productions, this production is transplanted to modern day Singapore, this time among the media moguls and starlets of the Singapore and Korean music industries. The cast of Singaporean singers (sopranos and tenors) and Korean low voices (two baritones and a mezzo) make this adaptation perfect typecasting. The music is sung in English, with lyrics adapted specifically for this production. The adapted dialogue is a bundle of fun, with situation appropriate jokes aplenty and syncs perfectly with the music.

Right from the start, the waltzing overture was played with infectious energy. Despite some intonation problems from the brasses, this energy was kept high throughout and and supported the singing cast beautifully. Of the singing, it is generally on the lighter side. The well-trained but light voices travel well even if they don't quite fill the house. The exceptions are the Korean singers and David Charles Tay, whose full-bodied voices increased the level of music making.

Still, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. After sharing two previous productions, the cast share great chemistry and rapport, which director Kim Sook-Young successfully channeled into a tight-knit comedic ensemble. The act 2 party scene was a great success, full of detail and sparkle.

Teng Xiang-Ting and David Charles Tay make a winsome pair as the squabbling couple of Rosalinde and Eisenstein. I was delighted by Xiang-Ting's sparkling flights of coloratura in the Act 2 ensemble. Understandably, the Korean's command of English could be better; but with booming voices like bass Park Jun-Hyeok's (Dr. Falke) and Son Jung-A's (Orlofsky), what voice lover could ask for more? David Daehan Lee as Frank was the only expat playing a local, and his performance was one of the highlights: young, handsome and muscular firstly in a police uniform and then a red dress shirt.... oh yeah and he sings well too. It is an expansive baritone that filled the hall effortlessly. Moira Loh got many laughs with her fillipino-accented portrayal of Adele, and showed off a free and flexible upper range. Jonathan Khoo was also a comedic highlight, camping it up as the bumbling lawyer Dr. Blind and another character made up for this show, showing up in a can-can dress for no apparent reason.

Another departure from tradition concerned the placement of the guest performer: rather than interpolating a guest performance in the middle of the Act 2 party scene, comedian Patricia Mok slumped out begrudgingly in between the scene change of Acts 2 and 3, supposedly to change sets but then launched into a 10 minute dialogue with the audience, complaining about those 'strange opera singers', flirting with a young orchestra member and trumpeting the fact that she's the only artiste who has appeared on all every MediaCorp channel. Rarely has an opera audience laughed and cheered so vivaciously.

This production is a great success for the cast, crew and musicians of New Opera Singapore. A revival with the same team would be most welcome.

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