Wagner's Flying Dutchman opera gets full staging here in October

Theatre directors Chong Tze Chien (above) and Glen Goei will co-direct Richard Wagner’s 19th-century opera The Flying Dutchman with a South-east Asian twist.
Theatre directors Chong Tze Chien (above) and Glen Goei will co-direct Richard Wagner’s 19th-century opera The Flying Dutchman with a South-east Asian twist.PHOTO: ST FILE
Theatre directors Chong Tze Chien and Glen Goei (above) will co-direct Richard Wagner’s 19th-century opera The Flying Dutchman with a South-east Asian twist.
Theatre directors Chong Tze Chien and Glen Goei (above) will co-direct Richard Wagner’s 19th-century opera The Flying Dutchman with a South-east Asian twist.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Richard Wagner opera about a ghostly ship will be staged in full in Singapore for the first time

October will bring opera fans here a first: a brooding opera from legendary German composer Richard Wagner, staged in full in Singapore for the very first time.

The Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) and OperaViva, in association with theatre company The Finger Players, will present The Flying Dutchman, an 1843 opera about a captain cursed to sail the seas endlessly on a ghostly ship.

It will be produced by a Singapore team that includes theatremakers Chong Tze Chien and Glen Goei as directors and will run for five days in October at the Victoria Theatre.

Four of the six leads will be drawn from the International Singing Competition for Wagner Voices, a triennial competition held in Germany by the International Association of Wagner Societies.

They will sing at four of the five performances here, with the remaining show, likely on Oct 28, performed by Singapore leads. The other two minor leads will be sung by Singaporeans for all five shows.

Auditions will be held on Jan 24 for the Singaporean leads and Jan 26 for the chorus.

Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) president Juliana Lim, 65, says: "The show will be a rare cultural experience for the Singapore audience, and it will also be a runway for Wagnerian singers - both local and international - who are looking for opportunities to showcase their talents."

Leads will receive vocal coaching from international experts such as Ms Alessandra Althoff-Pugliese, the vice-president of the International Association of Wagner Societies, and coach to leading Wagner singers. Choristers will attend a vocal training programme helmed by chorus master Albert Tay.

The Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) was formed in 2012 to introduce and deepen understanding of the composer's works here and has been conducting talks on and screenings of his work. It has about 50 members.

"We were feeling a bit bold and thought about doing a concert version of a Wagner opera to bring the experience to people. Then, we wondered, what about a semi- staged Wagner opera," says Ms Lim. "And in the end, we decided to go all out and settled on a fully staged opera."

She hopes the show will also inspire greater interest in Wagner's works among Singaporeans.

She says: "It's a starting point for us, to show that the opera is fun and to make Wagner accessible and exciting to people."

The budget for the production is about $500,000 and about two-thirds of that amount have been raised.

Ms Lim roped in directors Goei and Chong because she thought they would complement each other. Chong has a "creative, economical style", while Goei has "flair".

"I thought, wow, together this would be a good fusion," she says of Goei, 53, associate artistic director at Wild Rice, and Chong, 41, company director of The Finger Players.

To make the opera accessible to a Singapore audience, the setting will be in South-east Asia.

Regional influences such as wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) and Chinese opera will be added and the set will be inspired by a kelong, or fishing villages on stilts.

Chong, who is taking on an opera for the first time, says: "The opera places a huge premium on music - the singers, the way the music moves with the plot and characters, these ties are all more intense and complex with an opera, even more so than a musical.

"But at the same time, these challenges invited me to tackle them. I'm always attracted to challenges."

•The Flying Dutchman is slated to show on Oct 23, 25 and 27 to 29 at Victoria Theatre.

•Go to www.facebook.com/RichardWagnerAssociationSingapore for more details on the show and the upcoming auditions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'The Flying Dutchman opera sails into town'. Print Edition | Subscribe