Singapore Lyric Opera founder Leow Siak Fah wore many hats, but opera was a passion

Tribute concert held at wake of Singapore Lyric Opera founder

When asked to describe the late Mr Leow Siak Fah, his son Tze Wen, 43, said: "You often heard him before you saw him."

Unsurprisingly so, given that the prominent businessman with the booming voice and magnetic charm wore many hats with aplomb - most memorably that of opera producer and amateur singer.

The former chairman of the service industry-oriented Citystate Group and founder of the Singapore Lyric Opera died in Germany last Tuesday, where he had been seeking treatment for an undisclosed illness. He would have been 76 this year.

A kampung boy from Kuala Lumpur whose father died when he was 11, Mr Leow led an incredibly full life. He put himself through the Chartered Insurance Institute in Britain, trained as a lawyer and later headed successful corporations - all while revelling in his one true passion, opera.

Despite the loss of the opera pioneer, the mood at his wake yesterday evening at Mount Vernon Sanctuary was far from sombre.

Instead of hushed voices and muted decor, a live station serving laksa was set up for guests, an exuberant photograph of Mr Leow performing on stage in the musical Carmen was placed in front of his casket, and a tribute concert was held by friends and family.

Said his wife, virologist Ling Ai Ee, 68: "The concert came together quite organically because we wanted to celebrate him the way he would want to be remembered - surrounded by his loved ones, laughter and song.

"We were so touched by how many people came forward and wanted to be part of it."

An accomplished pianist herself, Dr Ling provided the accompaniment for many numbers. The two-hour concert featured 17 of her husband's favourite songs from operas and musicals.

Both their children, Tze Wen and daughter Huei Hsien, as well as their three grandchildren had a turn at the mike.

In between the music, anecdotes about Mr Leow were shared - from his unabashed love of food to his uncanny ability to burst into song at any moment.

Kuala Lumpur-based tenor Peter Ong, 39, who sang the Irish ballad Danny Boy, said of Mr Leow: "He was an unmistakable force in our industry - single- handedly making Singapore Lyric Opera the institution it is today."

The funeral will be held today.

avarma@sph.com.sg