A baritone grown in stature

REVIEW / CONCERT

THE ITALIAN BARITONE

Martin Ng

School of the Arts Concert Hall

Last Saturday

In a state where vocal recitals are uncommon, a baritone concert is a curate's egg.

Singaporean baritone Martin Ng has been gradually making a name for himself. Based in the Italian city of Verona, his performance in October as the eponymous Flying Dutchman in the Singapore premiere of the Wagner opera gave notice to his considerable abilities.

This recital, presented by the Singapore-based opera blog The Mad Scene, centred on Italian operatic roles where baritones are often limited to the part of villainous, avuncular and anti-hero characters. Here, he proved his mettle, not just vocally but also dramatically, as one might in an opera house.

The programme began with two contrasting arias from Donizetti's bel canto operas. In Cruda, Funesta Smania from Lucia Di Lammermoor, he projected with a force and heroism more often associated with tenor arias.

Equally well emoted were the lyrical pages of Come Paride Vezzoso (L'Elisir D'Amore), which showed sensitivity and balance and proved that he was not just a pair of sturdy lungs.

His performances have indeed grown in stature over the years. The board-like stiffness that accompanied his earlier appearances has given way to a more supple and flexible persona befitting a variety of roles.

In Ponchielli's Ah! Pescatore from La Gioconda, his agile and articulate way around its tricky rhythms was a marvel to behold.

Even better were the offerings in the second half of the concert - Verdi's Pieta Rispetto E Amore (Macbeth) and Cortigiani Vil Razza Dannata (Rigoletto), and Giordano's Nemico Della Patria (Andrea Chenier).

Ng's towering and booming entries and anguished expressions found a foil in the flowing melody, which his mellow and multi-hued voice served well. This indicates that he is ready for major roles in more repertoire operas.

Adding variety to the programme was non-Italian repertoire performed by Chinese soprano Li Jie, a graduate of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts who is now living in Germany.

Her command of Schumann's lied In Der Fremde, Lehar's Meine Lippen (from Giuditta) and the obligatory Puccini aria (Signore Ascolta from Turandot) was excellent and every bit Ng's equal.

The accompaniment was provided by Montenegrin pianist Boris Kraljevic, whose orchestral conception of the music ensured that a fuller ensemble was not missed.

His solo segment was as varied as the songs he played for, with myriad shades of bell sonorities in the two Rachmaninov pieces, the Musical Moment (Op. 16 No. 5) and Etude-Tableau (Op. 33 No. 8).

Together, the trio served up sumptuous readings of the recital's most substantial pieces, operatic duets from three Verdi operas.

The relationships between father and daughter (Rigoletto), father and prospective daughter-in-law (La Traviata), and evil duke and would-be lover (Il Trovatore) were shelled out with a show of passion and conviction.

The chemistry among all three performers was clearly palpable and prolonged applause after a stirring Udiste... Mira, Di Acerbe Lagrime (Il Trovatore) was followed by a rousing encore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2016, with the headline 'A baritone grown in stature'. Print Edition | Subscribe