Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BHSO's 'Pirates of Penzance' in Review

The Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra turned in a really fun evening in their operatic debut, presenting a semi-staged production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. It is such a treat to be able to see and hear this popular comic opera live, from its witty plots and lyrics to the jaunty music that is at once inspired by and yet a parody of Italian bel canto styles.

This semi-staged presentation was conducted and directed by BHSO music director Adrian Tan, combining his experience in theatre and music in a single presentation. A raised platform behind the orchestra served as the playing area for the ensemble of nine singing-actors, while the chorus joined in the fun from the choral stands. Colourful handcrafted sets reminiscent of primary school projects and equally colourful costumes and makeup did much to add a visual context and brightened up the atmosphere. Light amplification was used to give the soloists an added acoustical advantage.

Even though many performers were carrying scores, they still managed to act as well as interact with tight ensemble chemistry between each soloist and chorus members. And even though certain roles and choral parts could use a stronger vocal boost, one hardly minded as the storytelling flowed in such an organic way. The outlandish storyline supplied by Gilbert and Sullivan also gave the cast license to overact, camping it up for laughs with an authentic Singlish-laden script.

Vocal standouts of the cast include Brent Allcock in his tongue twister of an entrance aria I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General, delivered with polished panache. Teenager Tiara Valencia Sadikin's light soprano sparkled in her role's many high coloratura passages; despite having difficulty with a couple of high notes, Leslie Tay's bright lyric tenor rang out strongly into the auditorium as he carried himself with the confidence of an experienced leading man. And in spite of a tentative start in his opening aria, Edwin Orlando Cruz's baritonal voice boomed with equal confidence, his extroverted stage presence was infectious, stirring up more energy from the ensemble cast as they played up the humour of the plot's most outrageous moments.

And before we forget the hosts of the evening, the orchestra gave solid support to the cast. Playing with delicacy and fleshing out details one might not otherwise notice on recordings, such as the occasional brass solo and fast-moving string passages confidently led by guest concertmaster David Loke.

Logistically, perhaps sightlines can be better thought out, as certain audience members in the front-centre seats were blocked by the conductor, The various amplification equipment that stuck out from the front of the raised platform was a distraction as well.

Between the success of this production and the SCO's Savage Land, I'm very happy to see that semi-staged opera productions of rarely performed operas are becoming more common place these days. The BHSO has always been known for charting new territory and promoting young musicians and composers, its nice to see that they have added singers into the mix as well. 

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