Musical review: Letter To Juliet by Bellepoque

The Chamber @ The Arts House

Last Friday

Letter To Juliet is a 80-minute play produced by local light musical theatre group Bellepoque in commemoration of William Shakespeare's 450th birth anniversary. It is in effect a tribute to the multi-faceted women who made the Bard's plays so true-to-life and ultimately memorable.

The setting scripted and directed by Hemang Yadav involves literature teacher Hermione (played by Sherilyn Tan), who has a troubled relationship with her ambitious and insensitive husband Leo (Darren Guo), and writes Agony Aunt letters to Juliet Capulet of Verona, the Shakespearean heroine who has been receiving such letters for centuries.

She addresses the issues of contemporary women and relates these with Shakespeare's women as she lectures her class of students, which was the audience. Each letter introduces groups of operatic arias and duets, with a cast of five singers very capably accompanied by Vincent Chen on the piano.

It was perhaps unfortunate that the first heroine was Juliet herself, as young soprano Angela Cortez was overmatched by the waltz-song Je Veux Vivre from Gounod's Romeo Et Juliette. Just getting around the coloratura notes was not quite enough, as it also needed to sound seemingly effortless, which was not the case.

Opposite her was a more believable Romeo, with Ah, Leve Toi Soleil sung by tenor Melvin Tan, one of the Singapore's best bleeding heart tenors, who made every note and gesture count. Their duet O, Nuit Divine!, was better balanced than anticipated and the mismatch much less obvious.

The character of Lady Macbeth, love or loathe her, was all about ruthlessness and overarching ambition. She found a perfect protagonist in soprano Satsuki Nagatome, whose sheer depth of tone and emotion swept the field in Verdi's Nel Di Della Vittoria (from Macbeth) as she eyed the Scottish throne with her next nefarious plan. A woman's hysteria provides an added dimension to the cold brutality already perfected by man.

In two arias from Purcell's The Fairy-Queen, adapted from A Midsummer Night's Dream, it was tenor Reuben Lai who stole the show as a smarmy, domineering male, towering over soprano Sabrina Zuber's bit-part in the slender If Love's A Sweet Passion. The aria from Handel's Giulio Cesare, V'adoro, Pupille, ably sung by Angela Cortez, ironically had nothing to do with Shakespeare's play on the same Roman emperor.

The Shakespearean heroine who evoked most sympathy was Desdemona, and this production telescoped scenes from Otello by both Rossini and Verdi. Verdi's version is by far the better known, with its tender Ave Maria, here sung with much feeling by Nagatome. The final duet and murder scene with Lai's Otello brandishing a dagger provided the most gripping moments of the evening.

To close, Hermione pondered her next step with her wayward hubby, and drawing from the strengths of all the Shakespearean heroines, did the unexpected. Forgiving the arrogant Leo would seem like a cop out in the age of women's liberation, but her magnanimity is the quality that makes true love transcendent. It is all there in The Winter's Tale. Shakespeare truly understood the hearts of men, and women.