Putting Singapore's stamp on opera

Nancy Yuen and Martin Ng (both above) play the leading roles in The Flying Dutchman.
Nancy Yuen and Martin Ng (both above) play the leading roles in The Flying Dutchman.PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG

Asian leads and a creative team from Singapore has been assembled to put on German composer Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman in October

Singapore's very own take on German composer Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, the first of his operas to be staged here in full, is taking shape.

The international and Asian leads for the show - which premieres in October - have been selected and a creative team from Singapore has been assembled.

Besides co-directors Chong Tze Chien and Glen Goei, who will bring puppetry and creative flair to the 1843 opera about a captain doomed to sail the seas endlessly, the team also includes Grammy nominee Darrell Ang as musical director, Wong Chee Wai as set designer and Lim Woan Wen as lighting designer.

The opera is presented by the Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) and co-produced by OperaViva, in association with theatre company, The Finger Players, of which Chong is company director.

It will run from Oct 23 to 30 at the Victoria Theatre, with the international leads singing in four of the five performances. The remaining show on Oct 27 will be performed by the Asian leads.

They are Singapore soprano Nancy Yuen as heroine Senta, Singapore baritone Martin Ng as the Dutchman, Taiwanese bass Julian Lo as Senta's father Daland and Singapore baritone Kee Loi Seng as Erik, a villager who has fallen for Senta.

  • BOOK IT /THE FLYING DUTCHMAN

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9Empress Place

    WHEN: Oct 23to 30, 6.30pm (Oct 23),7.30pm (Oct 25, 27 and 28),3pm(Oct 30)

    ADMISSION: $46 to $146 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) president Juliana Lim, 65, says: "The honest truth is that we embarked on this project in early 2015 not expecting to find any Singapore singer willing to take on a Wagner opera."

The association forged a partnership with its counterpart society in Karlsruhe and the International Association of Wagner Societies to tap on contestants in the International Singing Competition for Wagner Voices, a triennial competition held in Germany, for the opera.

Lim says the association also held open auditions here and was pleasantly surprised to find singers coming forward.

She says: "We then decided to dedicate one of the five scheduled performances to them.

"Looking to the future, should this opera ever be restaged, it's the Singapore-based cast that will take it forward."

She adds that Yuen - "the doyenne of the Singapore opera world" - was invited to sing the part of Senta.

It is a role that the veteran singer of over 30 years describes as daunting. She says: "I've always been drawn to Wagner's music as a listener, but have yet to perform any of his operas and am immensely grateful to have this golden opportunity to sing his beautiful work."

The other Asian leads were picked from the open auditions. Ng, who graduated from the State Conservatory of Verona in Italy, considers the role of the cursed Dutchman a huge break.

"It's the most difficult role I have taken on so far and certainly the most important," he says. "Having sung Verdi and Puccini's operas for years, singing Wagner's masterpiece presents huge stylistic and vocal challenges."

Meanwhile, the international cast features some up-and-coming Wagnerian singers. Australian soprano Kathleen Parker, who won the Wolfgang Wagner Prize and the Audience Prize at the 2015 International Singing Competition for Wagner Voices, will be Senta.

She is intrigued by the blending of elements of shadow puppetry and Chinese opera in this production, which "has the potential to be very evocative and completely innovative".

She will star opposite Ukrainian baritone Oleksandr Pushniak, the first prize and Audience Prize winner of the 2012 competition, who takes on the role of the Dutchman.

Lim of the Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) says the team is looking to break new ground and put Singapore's stamp on the opera.

"They're creating something very deep, beautiful and innovative," she says. "I can already hear the audience gasp as soon as the overture starts."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Putting Singapore's stamp on opera'. Print Edition | Subscribe