SINGAPORE - For the past two years, singing and performing felt like a crime - especially to the opera community.
Tenor Reuben Lai, co-founder and co-artistic director of home-grown chamber opera company L'arietta Productions, felt that they were "singled out" by strict pandemic restrictions, which ranged from the closure of performance venues to a ban on live singing.
Lai, 48, plays a heartbroken bachelor in L'arietta's upcoming opera Speed Dating Tonight!.
"We were supposed to do the show in 2020, but the world was turned upside-down," says director Eleanor Tan, 46. This setback led to the commission of the online prequel All Dressed Up (No Place To Go), filmed in the cast members' houses.
Lai's wife stood in as his videographer as Tan directed through an iPad propped up nearby. Alan Lau, 44, who plays a bartender named Quinn, was in Malaysia, so they shot his video via Zoom.
"It was brand new for all of us," says Tan.
They were euphoric when they could finally stage a live production together. Tan quips: "Pinch me, is this really happening?"
Local chamber opera is picking up again after the easing of Covid-19 measures, from the staging of Speed Dating Tonight! to docu-opera A Day A Lily, which premieres at the end of the month.
Another group, The Opera People, is launching its Kopi & Song Podcast series on July 1. It features four episodes of conversations with opera composers, performers and conductors.
Speed Dating Tonight!, written by American composer Michael Ching, has been performed in more than 100 different productions around the world, but L'arietta's is its Asian premiere. It has been tweaked to fit post-pandemic Singapore, focusing on online dating and using local references such as Toa Payoh and GrabFood.
"The show will be set like a real speed-dating event," says soprano Akiko Otao, another of L'arietta's co-founders and co-artistic directors. Shesays audience members will each be greeted by a beverage, courtesy of Hendrick's Gin.
Otao, 38, who is also featured in an episode of the Kopi & Song podcast, plays Deborah, another singleton looking for love, in Speed Dating Tonight!
Emerging soprano Wong Yong En,23, plays a waitress. "My character is very bold and direct, unlike myself," she says.
To allow them to better connect with their characters, Tan made the cast write the background synopses for their roles during rehearsals. "It helps to have things grounded in my character's history," says Lau.
As for pre-show rituals, Otao says hers include eating a steak the night before, running on the day of the show and journaling as her character throughout rehearsals.
The cast members stress that the show is meant to entertain everyone, regardless of how much they know about opera. "It is incredibly approachable," says Lai.
Tan adds that there are Easter eggs and hidden gems that frequent operagoers can look out for.
"I think that laughing with others is what gives you the permission to laugh fully," says Otao. "It just feels so good."
Book it / Speed Dating Tonight!
Where: Stamford Arts Centre Black Box, 155 Waterloo Street
When: June 30 to July 3, 3 and 8pm
Admission: $40 to $50 from Peatix's website
Info: L'arietta's website
Book it / Kopi & Song Podcast Series
Where: Facebook, Spotify and Apple Podcasts
When: From July 1
Info: The Opera People's Facebook page