Thursday, April 12, 2018

Interview Feature - Sabrina Zuber and Dr. Thomas Manhart - Roots on 27 April 2018

Roots, the latest production by Bellepoque, is an exploration of European and Southeast Asian music during the belle epoque era of 1870 to 1915. It features performers from the fields of European classical and traditional Malay music among others. It features a cast of musicians that includes tenor Brendan-Keefe Au, sopranos Syakirah Noble and Sabrina Zuber, Syafiqah 'Adha Sallehin on the accordion and leader of the SOTA Malay Fusion Ensemble, with Dr. Robert Casteels on the piano and Dr. Thomas Manhart as narrator and music director. We speak to producer and performer Sabrina and musicologist Thomas to find out more.

Cast picture of Roots

The Mad Scene: The show description for Roots promised a mix of European and South East Asian music during the Bellepoque era. What can we expect to see and hear from the show?

Sabrina: Exactly what has been promised: We will stroll through the centuries and the continents and see what happened socially and artistically during the belle epoque years 1870 of 1915 both in Europe and in Southeast Asia. We will have some French and Italian repertoire as well as Malay and Mandarin.

Thomas: you will hear and see belle epoque songs like Tosti, Faure, and Duparc, but also pieces historically prior to the belle epoque, but that are giving us a sense of the upcoming flair of the style of saviour vivre of the aristocracy, an example being the Brindisi from La Traviata.

You will also hear excerpts from a Bangsawan, a Malay opera style that developed just at the same time, 1910s. It wasn't called belle epoque in other cultures but the middle European, but we were just wondering what was happening musically at the same time here in Singapore. The area was also blooming artistically as it was economically, just in 1905 we got to see the opening of Victoria Concert Hall!

The Mad Scene: Is this show in a theatrical form with performers playing characters, or in a concert form with musical numbers and a host introducing the music?

Sabrina: This time Bellepoque has decided to focus on its main core, which is music. Dr Manhart though will be on stage with us as narrator and help the audience finding the connections, the differences and similarities between the different traditions and cultures.

Thomas: It is more in concert form with me giving some connecting background information. The singers may take on roles where the music calls for it, but the overall presentation is really more in a concertante style.

Outreach Performance Workshop at SOTA

The Mad Scene: How did the concept of the show come about? Especially the idea of blending traditional South East Asian music with European classical music?

Sabrina: As Bellepoque director, after having dedicated the last two productions to iconic musicians like Maria Callas and Josephine Baker, I wanted to go back to the company’s “roots”, i.e. music from the belle epoque era. I also wished to explore and discover what was going on, during the same period, in this region that has been my home for 14 years and counting. I have often kept away from genres that I do not know, however I think that Asia is sinking into my blood and I wanted to give this process some sort of recognition.

Thomas: Sabrina has been working on the 1870 to 1930s belle epoque music for so long. As we are all musicians active in Southeast Asia, it is natural that the question comes up. Instead of showing the audience what was played on the other side of the world, why don't we present for once the music that has happened here? And it was a very rich music scene here!

The Mad Scene: Managing a creative rehearsal process with different musical disciplines and perspectives can’t be an easy job, could you describe to us what rehearsals are like, how different is it from a rehearsal for a typical classical recital programme and any insights gleaned from the experience?

Sabrina: As producer, putting up this show has not been more difficult than any other show I have produced so far. It is always about managing individuals, different artists’ personalities and needs.

As an artist, I am learning to appreciate new music genres, even though I do not speak the languages; I admire the SOTA Fusion Ensemble and our young Malay singer Syakirah Noble for the ease they have on stage and the passion for their “roots”. I admire Syafiqah 'Adha Sallehin’s work with her accordion. Most of all, I love their smiles and their sweetness!

Last but not least, I will be giving my very first attempt to sing in Mandarin, a language that I have no clue about. But I am curious about it, and about the culture it represents. I think this is due to the fact that I have been actively learning tai chi for years and that my own laoshi (teacher) does not speak a word of English! So I am trying to get closer to her culture.

Thomas: As we are not fusing the Malay and Western styles, there is really not much difference in the rehearsal style. The Malay group could pretty much rehearse their part on their own, and then just join rehearsals that work on a smooth run and setting. Combining so many languages, French, Malay, Chinese, Italian, we have to listen to various consultants, but otherwise it was not much different from the usual rehearsals.

The Mad Scene: As creative members, how much of your own personal experience can we find in the show? Which segments are you more personally invested in?

Sabrina: I often say that each show I create and produce feels like giving birth. Each show is my child and has a special place in my heart. Believe, each single one.

Roots, however, is maybe the most autobiographical of all. In this concert, I focus on the belle epoque music which is the core of my company; additionally, I will sing a folksong from my native region in Italy I learnt from my grandmother; I will also present, together with tenor Brendan-Keefe Au, songs by F. P. Tosti, who was also born in my native region; I experiment with Chinese; I will be on stage with my mentor Dr Casteels and my vocal coach Dr Manhart. I believe that what you will see on stage is really who I am.

Roots is on 27 April 2018. Check out the Events Page to find out more!

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