Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Singapore Pocket Opera Theatre's 'Pocket Opera Gala' in Review - 24 Sep 2016

Singapore Pocket Opera Theatre's Pocket Opera Gala
Review by Alvin Koh

The Pocket Opera Gala by Singapore Pocket Opera Theatre was an unusual operatic concert; Besides the use of cell phones and taking selfies in one duet, it unapologetically makes witty fun of the performers and the audience in the form of the emcee, Paige Freeman, whose invisibility, except during the curtain call, added a sense of mystery and begged the question, "Who on earth is this audacious emcee with such verve?" Thanks to her, the introductions were never boring.

The order of a gala programme is important and the producers of Singapore Pocket Opera Theatre (SPOT) had planned well, beginning the first and second halves aptly with a suitable overture and intermezzo, setting the mood smoothly. The SPOT String Ensemble did an admirable job. While the first opera excerpt from The Magic Flute was a little too voluble in relation to the singers with its intonation problems, the Cavalleria Rusticana intermezzo was touching with beautifully phrased passages.

Each of the vocalists had not only a more than supple tone, sufficient artistry and vocal technique, but also an amiable and affable charisma that shone. Notably Felicia Teo, soprano, whose confident and sensuous disposition in Quando m'en vo' can be distracting for many of the male audience, though not in a bad way at all. Her amazing vocal palette, artistry, consummate acting and sumptuous voice made her performance of this oft-heard aria one of the evening's major highlights.

Jeremy Koh, tenor, was suave and very daring. His attempt at the famous Ah! Mes Amis aria, though not perfect, was very well delievered and acted, and absolutely well received. One might question his choice of an aria from Verdi's Rigoletto, due to the light timbre of his tenore fach instead of the more substantial voices we are used to hearing in the role of the Duke. But if Florez, of a simliar fach, has sung and recorded it, why not Koh?

Alvin Tan, baritone, had to be a favourite for many of the members of the audience, with his generous, open throat and well paced vocal delivery, wowing us from the start as Papageno to being the irate count. His commanding stature also complemented his operatic artistry. His most resonant voice, last heard in Turandot, indeed was a gem to be beheld in Singapore.

Charmaine Tan's creamy and sincere vocals must have pulled at the heart strings, especially with her O mio Babbino Caro and Piangerò la sorte mia. She most admirably took up the challenge of the lower voice part in the famous Lakme duet (although she is a soprano), which I would like a fuller tone for my preference. You would certainly want to watch out for Miss Tan's development as a classical vocalist.

When I heard Evelyn Ang tonight, my immediately thought was a very young Mado, the amazing coloratura soprano with high Gs and even Cs above High C. Her ear splitting voice, though shrill at times, was thrilling and most titillating. I last heard Miss Ang at the Colours of Opera concert before this, and would like to hear her more often.

with flautist Paul Huang
I must not complete this review without writing about the conductor, who also vocally coached the vocalists in this SPOT gala. His lively and commanding conducting was not unlike a visual Eurythmics experience, reminding me of the plastique animè section of a Dalcroze masterclass. It was also interesting that he was keenly observing the singers, as evident in his facial synchronised patterns. All in all,Vincent Chen conducted the orchestra with finesse.

The writer's sketch of the conductor from his seat
One must also mention the obtrusive static noise from the PA system that disrupted the evening's music making. It should be fair for audiences and performers alike to expect that the hall's sound system to be in better condition given the charges that producers pay to The Arts House for these extras. I hope that management will fix these issues ASAP before it affects more concerts down the line.

SPOT's Pocket Opera Gala was indeed a musical treat. With the Florence Foster Jenkins movie now playing in local cinemas and becoming everty classical vocal music lover's obsession, isn't it wonderful to have evenings like these where we can be reminded as to what good singing sounds like?

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