Singapore International Festival of Music

Soprano was kicked out of choir

Singaporean soprano Victoria Songwei Li will perform her first solo vocal recital at the festival.
Singaporean soprano Victoria Songwei Li will perform her first solo vocal recital at the festival.PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF MUSIC

Kicked out of her primary school choir, Singaporean soprano Victoria Songwei Li is now preparing for her first solo vocal recital at the Singapore International Festival of Music next month.

The concert on Oct 20, accompanied by noted young pianist Thomas Ang, will include melodies from Gounod's Romeo And Juliet and Donizetti's The Elixir Of Love.

Li, 23, sang the role of supporting character Gianetta in The Elixir Of Love when the musical about love potions was staged here in 2012 by New Opera Singapore, the troupe helmed by soprano Jeong Ae Ree.

Next month, however, she will sing selections from the major part of Adina, showing how she and her voice have matured since she first began singing in secondary school.

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After being thrown out of the choir in Raffles Girls' Primary School - she does not remember why - she took up the French horn in the school band.

While studying in the music elective programme in Tanjong Katong Girls' School, she tried the Queen Of The Night aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute, the famous melody that requires a soprano to sing lightly and terrifyingly.

"My friends and I were just trying the high notes. Our teacher came in and said, 'Who sang that? I think you should start singing lessons,'" Li says.

She began her studies under Wong Su Sun, a performer noted for roles with the Singapore Lyric Opera, and later with Jeong. The only daughter of an accountant and an architect, she had to convince her parents of her desire to pursue music full-time.

Admission into major London music schools have added weight to her arguments - she is doing her postgraduate degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and has a bachelor of music (honours) from the Royal Academy of Music.

She has also had parts with the British Youth Opera since 2014 and, this year, she sang the role of Cupid in New Opera Singapore's production of the Offenbach opera Orpheus In The Underworld.

Her studies have been funded by several bursaries and scholarships, including the Hamish Dyer Young Musicians' Scholarship, offered by a Scotsman who lived for many years in Singapore, and the Countess of Munster Musical Trust Derek Butler Award.

Conductor Darrell Ang, who was one of the judges for the scholarship, calls her an "exciting" young singer.

Li is grateful for the performance slot at the upcoming festival, and to Ang for promoting young musicians from Singapore. The festival, spotlighting top young musical talent, is the brainchild of the conductor.

She says: "After I've established myself and gained some experience, I'd like to come back and contribute to the scene here."

Akshita Nanda

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Soprano was kicked out of choir'. Print Edition | Subscribe