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Concert review: The Goddess live music appropriate for narrative, moods and emotions

Published on Feb 16, 2014 10:33 AM
The Singapore Chinese Orchestra in action. The orchestra played a specially commissioned soundtrack to the 1934 silent film The Goddess on Feb 15 for Huayi Festival. -- FILE PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Concerts with a live orchestra accompanying a screened movie are not new here. The first was the Singapore Symphony Orchestra playing Prokofiev's soundtrack to Sergei Eisenstein's war classic Alexander Nevsky in 2001. Then came those best-selling Arts Festival presentations with the Singapore Festival Orchestra, and more recently the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra in The Fellowship Of The Ring.

This Huayi concert at Esplanade Concert Hall by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra conducted by Yeh Tsung at Esplanade's Huayi Festival had a major difference. New music for Chinese instruments was commissioned to accompany the 1934 Shanghai silent movie The Goddess (Shen Nu) written and directed by Wu Yonggang, and starring the screen siren Ruan Lingyu.

The story of the 72-minute film may seem over-simplistic for today's sensibilities, but the emotions it engenders are real and palpable. Its protagonist is a single mother who reluctantly turns to prostitution in order to support her infant son. The boy even gets to go to school but when her life savings are stolen by a hoodlum, she sacrifices herself to guarantee his future.

The actual movie was preceded by a jazzy overture, with the kind of "hot music" played in the lounges of Shanghai's Paramount and Cathay Hotels, to accompany a short feature on the history of the city's film industry and Ruan's short, meteoric but tragic life. She was the 1930s Joan Chen, one who used a plethora of facial expressions when words and conversations could not be employed.

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