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Review does Carmen a disservice

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) production of Carmen was not well served by Marc Rochester's mixed review (Sizzling Chemistry Between Carmen And Jealous Lover, Life, April 25).

As a regular patron of the SSO's concerts and a long-time opera aficionado, I would say that the performance that I saw on April 23 is up there, in terms of quality and memorability, with what I have seen at the New York Metropolitan, London's Royal Opera House and La Scala in Milan.

Mr Rochester's description of the orchestra lacking "the flexibility to bend to the singers and it often seemed that orchestra and singers were on different wavelengths" is beyond me. In fact, the unanimity of instrumental and vocal ensemble was remarkable. The Act 2 Quintet is always an indication of the quality of ensemble and, here, it was brilliantly united, with an easy vitality and dramatic expressiveness from all.

The consistently fine singing cast was another marvel of the performance.

After glowing mentions of the Carmen and Don Jose parts, Mr Rochester concentrated on some negative impressions, referring, for example, to Escamillo as "not so much vocally uneven as downright lumpy, he had a few projection issues".

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This was certainly not the case from my seat in Circle 1. Shen Yang may not have exuded the swagger of the best Escamillos, but he was well up to the demands of the part with his lighter-timbred, yet well-focused vocal production.

It is also news to me that the role of Micaela is "usually associated with weakness and timidity".

Innocence and simplicity perhaps, certainly in comparison with Carmen, but weakness? Absolutely not.

The hint of spinto in Li Jing Jing's singing gave her character a sense of courage and determination and made her performance one of the joys of the evening.

Nor do I accept that Shui Lan's direction was overly demonstrative.

His detailed understanding and control of every aspect of the score gave it a sweep and directional shape that, in my three years in Singapore, has shown itself to be a hallmark of his performances.

This conductor's tenure as music director of the SSO is surely the pride of cultural life in Singapore.

Anthony Ryan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2016, with the headline 'Review does Carmen a disservice'. Print Edition | Subscribe