Opera review: Call girls, sexual politics and murder provide uncommon entertainment

For those familiar with New Opera Singapore's productions, especially the hilarious Opera Comique series, A Knife In The Dark: Songs Of Kurt Weill, a concert of songs by the German composer at The Arts House last Friday, was a departure from its norm.

While the 18 songs performed by 12 singers were strung together in a neat piece of dramatisation by Goh Ming Siu that followed a discernible storyline, the subject was anything but a laughing matter.

The titular A Knife In The Dark brings together Mack The Knife and Lady In The Dark, two of Weill's better known song and musical titles. The setting also paralleled those of Weill's musical theatre, art noir with liberal doses of social commentary, exposing the murky underbelly of modern society.

This one takes place in a Depression period brothel, with cynical characters rubbing body parts with hopelessly naive ones amid sexual politics and alcoholism, complete with three murders and two suicides to boot.

What would the censors make of three callgirls in skimpy outfits smoking on stage, an unmade bed, shooting and stabbings (all fatal) taking place on the floor of Parliament, once commanded by Mr Lee Kuan Yew? All this without an R18 rating.

Such was Robert Jenkin's stage direction that kept the audience transfixed and guessing as to what would happen next. The singing, accompanied by Shane Thio on clavinova, was not bad either.

As expected, femme fatales stole the show. Wendy Woon's Madame Lucy in Somehow I Never Could Believe was the most moving number, sung as she quits the world's oldest profession near the end. Rebecca Li's Anna provided the best diction in husky tones, with Schickelgruber (a parody on Hitler's original surname) and Nanna's Lied, the latter performed expertly in German. Moira Loh's seductive Barbara amply displayed her proficiency with foreign tongues, coping easily in the highest registers of Barbara's Lied and Je Ne T'aime Pas, in German and French.

Jonathan Charles Tay was the wizened father in Where Is The One Who Will Mourn Me When I Am Gone? and the popular September Song. On this form, the tenor is beginning to develop a substantial and convincing baritone voice. The son, Jonathan Khoo as the haplessly in love Edward, cut a sympathetic figure in I Got A Marble And A Star and Lonely House. Ashley Chua as the equally vulnerable mayor's wife had two songs, My Ship and Breck Weaver My True Lover.

Rachel Ong, Leslie Tay, Marky Canios and Marie Luo had bit parts as supporting characters, singing one number each before disappearing into the shadows or being rubbed off. The eponymous Mack The Knife was sung by Shaun Lee, he with his booming and over-emphatic voice, as the slimy mayor who becomes Mack's first victim.

So who played the murderous Macheath? The shadowy criminal, represented by the hammily sung Ballad Of The Easy Life, was revealed as tenor Lim Jing Jie, whose most highly prized skill has to be his disguise. He looks exactly like an accountant or tax consultant, who wields a dagger like a ballpoint pen. His ultimate comeuppance also answers the final question of the intrigue: Who was Barbara's secret lover?

As in life, there are sob stories and there are happily-ever-afters. The audience's lot fortunately belonged in the latter - this rather different production by New Opera Singapore provided over an hour and a half of uncommon entertainment. More of the same please.