The Singapore Lyric Opera has made it a point over the years to engage Asian singers in its major productions. Many vocal gems have been unveiled to the Singapore public as a result.
Now meet two more, as Sri Lankan-British soprano Kishani Jayasinghe and Filipino-American tenor Arthur Espiritu made their spectacular debuts here in the opera company's gala concert on Saturday night at the Esplanade Concert Hall.
Jayasinghe, who helms the title role of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow later in October, immediately made an impact in Hanna Glawari's hit-song Vilja-Lied. Singing in English, her pure and radiant voice with the sweetness of nectar, easily reached the topmost spots without straining or stretching. Her cultured enunciation and immaculate articulation also served well in the coloratura favourite Gounod's Jewel Song from Faust, now sung in the original French.
No less impressive was Espiritu, who opened with Donizetti's Una Furtiva Lagrima from Elisir D'Amore, revealing a passionate bleeding-heart sensibility in the mould of The Three Tenors.
His clear ringing tone showcased the popular Neapolitan song Torno A Sorriento (Come Back To Sorrento), which conductor-cum-emcee Joshua Kangming Tan humorously explained as a plea for a new sewage system to be built in the Italian town. So much for the romance.
Local SLO regulars mezzosoprano Anna Koor and baritone William Lim were limited to one aria each. Koor sported a gigantic rose on her gown and flirtatiously made eyes at the audience in Bizet's Habanera from Carmen, while Lim was his usual dependable and lyrical self in Wolfram's Ode To The Evening Star from Wagner's Tannhauser.
The SLO Orchestra supported the singing sensitively and with much subtlety, never overwhelming the voices at any point. Conductor Tan also led the ensemble in two substantial overtures, from Rossini's The Barber Of Seville and Wagner's Tannhauser, both highlighting fine solos and cohesive ensemble playing.
The voices multiplied as the evening developed, the first duet being The Presentation Of The Rose from Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Koor's Octavian (a famous cross-dressing role) and Jayasinghe's Sophie blended well in this declaration of secret love between two young protagonists.
Even better was the substantial chunk of Act One in Puccini's La Boheme when Espiritu's Rodolfo encounters Jayasinghe's Mimi and their hands meet. The former's Che Gelida Manina (Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen) and the latter's Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi (Yes, They Call Me Mimi) truly touched and hit the audience's simpatico buttons. Spontaneous clapping and cheers followed each aria, no doubt encouraged by conductor Tan's permission to applaud ad libitum.
The magical evening closed with the Quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto, led by Espiritu's opening gambit Bella Figlia Dell'Amore (Lovely Daughter Of Love) as his lecherous Duke of Mantua seeks yet another amorous conquest. The four voices came as one in this rapturous outpouring that brought the house down. What could follow after this ovation?
Yet another performance of the beloved Quartet beckoned. The performers really understood the meaning of the exclamation "encore!".