Thursday, September 1, 2016

SLO Turandot in review - 29 Aug 2016

As seen on Monday 29 August 2016, the Singapore Lyric Opera's revival of their 2008 Turandot production was an unequivocal triumph for the company.

Set in a bronze age rife with pagan rituals, Lo King-Man's production, featuring intricately detailed sets and costumes, provided sumptious support for the large cast of performers to shine. And shine they did, with stellar performances by all involved including a large cast of locally-based supporting perfomers, many of them making their mainstage debuts with the company. Baritone Alvin Tan started the show with his strong and authoritative reading as the Mandarin. Leslie Tay, first as the doomed Prince of Persia then Emperor Altoum, gave completely lived-in performances that communicated the inner conflicts of his characters. Although their combined harmonies did not quite mesh together at times. the trio of ministers, Martin Ng, Peter Ong and Raymond Lee, gave strong individual vocalism and provided comic relief in the otherwise solemn opera. Their showpiece in Act 2, where they reminisce about their respective hometowns, was beautifully sung with all three displaying lovely legato lines. Clad in a leather vest and wielding a large staff and ax, Ong Ding-Yi gave a fearsome, imposing presence as the executioner.

Also a pleasure to hear is the strong choral singing that make up much of the opera. After a hesitant start, the ensemble voices soared, blending beautifully with the large orchestral forces to create stunning aural soundscapes. This could not have been easy as the choir members are also required to play multiple characters, sometimes up to three characters in an act. The SLO Children's Choir sang with shimmering silvery tones in their Jasmine Flower-inspired number and lent a touch of cuteness to the proceedings. An ensemble of male pugilistic dancers and female 'harem' dancers filled up the stage with more spectacle to catch the eye.

As the prince with the name that no one knows, Lee Jae-Wook made the shift from lyric to spinto repertoire by creating the role in 2008, a risk which he successfully rose to the occasion. Perhaps affected by the recent haze or just the labour of performing this difficult role for the third time in the run, Lee's voice tonight had a slightly rough texture, lacking the sheen that makes his full-voiced singing so exciting to hear. High notes that are supposed to be sustained were often clipped. Nonetheless the voice was strong and remained resonant throughout the evening, he delivered a powerful yet sensitively sung Nessun Dorma that was ultimately satisfying.

In his typically undestated way, Wiliam Lim sang and acted with gravitas in the role of the deposed king Timur. China-born Li Yang, a graduate of our own Nanyang Academy of Fine Art's music department, gave a strong showing in her company debut in a leading role. After performing a heartfelt Signore Ascolta in Act 1, she pulled all the stops in her dramatic Act 3 suicide scene, inhibiting the character with unreserved passion. The voice is strong in its core yet floated effortlessly across the theatre. It was an exciting performance and I look forward to seeing more.

What impressed me the most was the singing in the short but demanding title role. Having sung the short but difficult title role in many European and Asian stages, South Korean Han Jee-Hye showed complete mastery in her part. Contrary to the declamatory Wagnerian sound often associated with the role, her voice was slender in its core but hardly lacking in resonance, giving the sound a brilliance that rang out into the auditorium. She overcame the unrelenting high tessitura with the experience of a seasoned veteran, the voice remaining open and flowed with ease. If one could ask for more dramatic depth in her portrayal, that could easily be excused in lieu of the vocal acrobatics on display.

Typical of revival casting, one senses that more rehearsal time might have led to better interpersonal chemistry between performers, cultivating a tighter sense of ensemble that would have given the overall performance more heart over pomp and circumstance. Nonetheless, this production deserves every bit of applause it received in its return back on stage. One wonders if this is a new direction the company is going into, reviving its successful past productions with new casts for a new generation of audiences. If so I look forward to seeing more!

Related Features:

Martin Ng's The Italian Baritone - Vocal recital of Romantic Italian excerpts featuring Boris Kraljevic and Li Jie - 17 December at SOTA Concert Hall

Alvin Tan and Leslie Tay will be performing with teachers from  Madison Academy of Music in a French-themed concert Musique Mélange on 9 October, 7pm at Alliance Francaise. More details of the concert here.

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