Sizzling chemistry between Carmen and jealous lover

REVIEW / CONCERT

GALA: BIZET'S CARMEN

Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Chorus & Children's Choir, Nafa Chamber Choir/Shui Lan (conductor)

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Friday

As modern-day Carmens go, Christine Rice is one of the best.

Singing the title role in this concert version of Bizet's famous opera, she was not just vocally compelling but conveyed through facial inflexions and body language a potent image of Carmen's alluring, captivating and sensuous femininity.

Casting Andrea Care as her troublesome and jealous lover, Don Jose, was a master-stroke. A gloriously expressive tenor, he, too, conveyed so much character through the voice that the limitations of performing opera on the concert platform were effectively swept aside.

In fact, there was such tangible chemistry between Care's Jose and Rice's Carmen that one wondered why she was ever even tempted by Shen Yang's Escamillo. Not so much vocally uneven as downright lumpy, he had a few projection issues.

More significantly, from his act two entry, striding cheerfully down a side aisle of the auditorium in a shabby suit and waving to friends in the audience as if he were an audience member returning late after one too many at the interval bar, he seemed uneasy in the role of a triumphant matador and lover.

Not so Li Jing Jing. If anything, her obvious self-possession and assertiveness sat strangely on the role of Micaela, a character usually associated with weakness and timidity. But she sang so enticingly that, for once, Micaela came across as a credible rival to Carmen for Jose's affections. Li's vast biography in the programme book - the longest of any of the singers - implied a struggling for recognition, yet this gorgeous voice has real star quality.

The adult chorus were in every respect superb, while the Children's Choir were simply outstanding. They stole the first act with their march through the auditorium and on to the stage, their perfection of tone and pitch, their tightness of ensemble and their authentic French diction.

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra does not usually do opera and it showed. Despite Shui Lan's demonstrative direction - projected onto a big screen at the back of the auditorium so everyone on the packed stage could see it - they lacked the flexibility to bend to the singers and it often seemed that orchestra and voices were on different wavelengths. Nevertheless, the orchestra did draw a lot of inner detail from the score which was refreshingly revealing.

An unobtrusive narration given by Joseph Lee added illumination for those unacquainted with the opera, while with the entire performing forces in white, David Edwards' subtle lighting effects were cleverly absorbed into the performance as the whole stage seemed to change colour from within. As a production, this was about as good as you could get when denied costumes, scenery and action.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline 'Sizzling chemistry between Carmen and jealous lover'. Print Edition | Subscribe