Friday, August 19, 2022

Review: New Opera Singapore's 'The Telephone' and 'La Voix Humaine'

New Opera Singapore (NOS) presents a double-bill of contemporary operas centred around the telphone, starting with a comic piece, Menotti's The Telephone, and a serious one, Poulenc's La Voix Humaine. It is directed by Artistic Director Jeong Ae-Ree and conducted by Music Director Chan Wei-Shing.

Menotti’s one act chamber opera tells the story of Ben, a gentleman eager to make his proposal, and Lucy, his clueless girlfriend. Unfortunately, the proposal keeps getting interrupted by seemingly endless rings of calls from the telephone, to Ben’s increasing frustration and Lucy’s persistent oblivion.

Lights go up for The Telephone on a modern living room with colorful mod furniture and a couple of fun oversized props, including the titular telephone. The music is very melodic and singable, with subtle chromatic shifts to highlight certain emotional themes, and light coloratura passages to please the canary fanciers. 

Tonight’s performance featured Moira Loh and Min Seong Kang, with Lara Tan and Keane Ong alternating later in the run. They gave engaging, lovely comic performances, with crisp diction and well-projected voices, good comic timing and chemistry. It was a lovely musical sitcom that is nonetheless relatable to modern audiences as well.

After the interval, things took the evening on a considerably darker turn with Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine.

Performed in an English translation, the opera is a single scene where a woman calls her former lover up the day before he marries another woman, interspersed with calls with a friend and a telephone operator. Musically it is composed in what some would call the ‘boop, beep, squawk’ style of contemporary music - a score composed not with traditional harmony or melody in mind but features unusual shifts in harmony and dynamics in line with the protagonist’s speech patterns and emotional journey.

NOS’s staging complements Poulenc’s abstract musical style in its visual language. It begins with a video projection on stage left showing two animated characters performed a modern dance piece. After which Victoria Song-Wei Li, in a slinky satin nightgown, delivered a tour de force of a performance, capturing the audience’s attention for a full 40 minutes with no co-performers to play off of. She gave a beautifully sympathetic portrayal of the protagonist in her manic state, alternating sudden shifts between elation and desperation with natural ease. Vocally the voice projected well once it’s warmed up, with clean, crisp diction and a nuanced palette of vocal colours.

Overall it was a beautiful evening of contemporary works, with capable young artists at the helm. Which small in scale, New Opera Singapore's production of these chamber operas took us on a full emotional journey from laughter to tears. 

More shows to come this weekend (19-21 August). Check out for details. 

There is also a free outreach performance of The Telephone for kids 14 and under on 21 August, click here for more information and to sign up.

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