Saturday, July 25, 2015

Interview: David Charles Tay (The Turn of the Screw - 31 July and 2 Aug 2015)

Described by New Opera Singapore as a 'psychological thriller of loss and suspense' involving ghosts and hints of pedophilia, Benjamin Britten's English opera The Turn of the Screw looks set to be an intense evening of musical drama. Leading man David Charles Tay tells us more about what we can expect on 31 July and 2 August.

The Mad Scene: Without any spoliers, tell us what The Turn of the Screw is about? Who are the characters in the story, how does it begin?

David Charles Tay: The Turn of the Screw is a tale of secret desires, abandonment and the loss of innocence! But also a story with a lot of heart and humanity. A young Governess (Teng Xiang-Ting) goes to look after two children at the behest of their mysterious guardian. The children, Miles (Corey and Ashley) and Flora (Moira Loh) are the picture of perfect innocence until things start to go awry. The governess starts seeing the ghosts of Peter Quint and the previous Governess, Miss Jessel. As she endeavors to rescue the children, she wonders how much of what she sees is real? You'll have to come to the show to find out how it all unravels.

The Mad Scene: Describe Britten's music for this opera to us. How does it challenge and reward you as a performer?

David Charles Tay: Oh Britten's music is pure genius! People might think it's hard to appreciate simply because he's a more contemporary composer but it's really not the case at all. The music is cinematic and every nuance of the text is skillfully woven into the music. It is a dream to perform because every dramatic instinct is already in the score... Nothing extra is even needed to communicate this exciting story.

The Mad Scene: Are there any particular challenges unique to his writing that you don't find in more 'traditional' operas? Challenges perhaps not just to you but to the ensemble as well, including the orchestra?

David Charles Tay: I think on first reading, our young singers might have found some of the writing a little daunting. We have an actual 12 year old boy in our cast playing the young Miles! But really Britten has set the text and music almost exactly how you would imagine delivering those lines as if in a spoken play... It's that natural. There's never a dull moment of repeated text... The story unfolds with each line of the opera.

The orchestra is an ensemble of 15 expert musicians. The score requires each player to be top notch soloists, playing some of the most challenging writing. Its fascinating music writing!

The Mad Scene: So what can we expect from the New Opera Singapore production? You guys have always give a modernised local take on previous productions, can we expect something along these lines?

David Charles Tay: Yes of course! NOS always endeavors to bring Singapore opera productions in a new way and this year is no exception. Our director Stefanos Rassios has set the whole story in an almost modern dream state homage to the Edwardian period. So it's definitely not your run of the mill period production, but nothing like you've seen us do before as well.

The costumes and set have all been designed and built specially for this production, and they are going to be very beautiful. Definitely something to look forward to.

Composer Benjamin Britten
The Mad Scene: Regarding your character Peter Quint, what is his part in the opera (we know he appears as a ghost in the beginning)? How do you relate to his journey in the plot?

David Charles Tay: I don't want to give too much away! But Peter Quint is an extremely interesting character, definitely one of the most challenging and interesting tenor roles, not your run of the mill lover like most other roles. He was the valet of the master of the house before his death and allegedly had rather illicit ways of controlling everything that went on in that house. He also had an unconventional relationship with the young boy Miles. I think in the young boy he found some way of regaining his innocence and the relationship completed him in some way. I won't give away much more!

The Mad Scene: Wow sounds potentially sordid. Was it hard for you to get into the mind of such a complex character?

David Charles Tay: Haha it certainly isn't easy. It's a difficult state of mind to sink into but we all have secret desires or things we just really want. I think that itself is enough to fuel such a character.

The Mad Scene: This is the fourth production for NOS, based on your observation, how has the company grown throughout this time?

David Charles Tay: Oh we are always pushing for greater things! The great thing about opera in Singapore is that it's quite unfamiliar to many, and therefore is a total blank slate to bring new ideas to this great art form. For example, having our own set built and costumes made from scratch this time. We are constantly trying to bring our audience things they haven't seen before, as well as a good variety of repertoire.

The Mad Scene: Why should people that read this come and see the production?

David Charles Tay: We really think it's the best show we've done so far and it's a really different and exciting story. Each cast member was specially chosen to bring these characters to life and our director has really brought a great insight to the drama. The music is beautiful and cinematic, much like any great movie score you might find in the movie theater. The opera is sung in English, with supertitles, in a super focused and intense 100 minutes. And it will be seen for the very first time in Singapore!

The Mad Scene: Great! Thanks David! All the best for the show!

David Charles Tay: Thank you so much Steven!

Watch David Charles Tay bring Peter Quint to life on 2 August at Victoria Theatre. His twin brother Jonathan Charles Tay performs on 31 July. Ticketing information available at the Events Page.

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