A rousing celebration of opera

For a national opera company that had humble beginnings as a grouping of opera enthusiasts from the National University of Singapore Society, the Singapore Lyric Opera has achieved amazing results over its 25 years.

The major impediment to further successes has been a chronic lack of funds for what is often considered a niche art form.

Its 25th anniversary gala concert was a fond retrospective of past repertoire, cramming excerpts from 20 operas into almost three hours. A minute's silence was observed in memory of founding chairman Leow Siak Fah, Singapore's Mr Opera and a tenor, director and impresario all rolled into one. He died in April at age 75 in Germany, where he had been seeking treatment for an undisclosed illness.



    Esplanade Concert Hall / Last Friday

Conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan, whom the company had groomed from his student days, the Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra played sensitive and sympathetic accompanist to the arias, duets and ensembles. The Overtures to Mozart's The Magic Flute and Johann Strauss Jr's Die Fledermaus opened each half, and it was left for the glory of the voice to take over.

There were five singers on show, led by ageless veteran soprano Nancy Yuen, whose rendition of Sempre Libera from Verdi's La Traviata still sends tingles down the spine, for seemingly effortless coloratura and over-reaching high notes. Opposite her was Korean Lee Jae Wook who sang the heroic tenor roles which Leow specialised in, including Rodolfo (Puccini's La Boheme) and Cavaradossi (Puccini's Tosca). He also had the audience enthralled, nailing Calaf's aria Nessun Dorma (Puccini's Turandot) with fearless gusto.

Together, the starry couple's love duets from La Boheme and Madama Butterfly were high points of the evening.

Korean baritone Song Kee Chang helmed the "fun" roles, taunting the bull in Escamillo's Toreador Song (Bizet's Carmen) and hamming Figaro perfectly for Largo Al Factotum (Rossini's The Barber Of Seville), bringing out many cheers.

It was left to two Singaporean singers to fill in the mezzo-soprano and baritone parts. Anna Koor was excellent in Faites-lui Mes Aveux from Gounod's Faust, while Martin Ng made a good case for Tonio's opening aria Si Puo from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. The late Leong Yoon Pin's Bunga Mawar made the list, with the duet Can I Believe The Sentiment Of Song sung by Ng and Yuen.

The SLO Chorus, augmented by children and choirs from National and Pioneer junior colleges and Evokx, a non-profit choral group, stood 150-strong, the biggest ever assembled for such a concert. They impressed with their enthusiasm in Les Voici (Carmen), Mascagni's Easter Hymn (Cavalleria Rusticana) and Verdi's Anvil Chorus (Il Trovatore).

The concert closed passionately with the Quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto (Yuen, Koor, Lee and Song) and the cast toasted the proceedings with the Brindisi (Drinking Song) from La Traviata. The latter was encored, sung with greater volume and received a standing ovation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'A rousing celebration of opera'. Print Edition | Subscribe