Asian cast impress in their only performance



Richard Wagner Association (Singapore), Orchestra of the Singapore International Festival of Music/Darrell Ang (conductor)

Victoria Theatre/Last Thursday

Opera productions usually have a standby cast ready to step in if one of the principal singers drops out. Normally, this second cast comprises younger and less experienced singers, many of whom harbour secret hopes that something will come along, which will give them their moment in the limelight. Dreams are made of such stuff.

For Singapore's pioneering production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, things were done rather differently.

The two casts are segregated not by age, experience or ability, but by ethnicity - something which Wagner would surely have approved. Thursday night saw the first and only scheduled appearance of the Asian cast.

Any thoughts that the Asian singers might have been overawed by Wagner's daunting operatic demands were completely swept aside by the third act and the stand-off between the eponymous Dutchman (Martin Ng), his new fiancee Senta (Nancy Yuen) and her rejected suitor Erik (Kee Loi Seng).

This had devastating musical and emotional impact. Controlled with great mastery by conductor Darrell Ang, all three voices throbbed with the kind of power, intensity and self-assurance you would expect from only the strongest of professional casts.

Ng had begun a bit shakily, but he quickly grew into the part and by the time he prepared to board the ship and sail away to meet his doom, he was very much the dominating presence on stage.

Kee was probably the most consistent voice among the principals. From the start, he impressed with his vocal authority and complete assimilation of the Wagner idiom.

Only Yuen was never entirely convincing. She certainly had the power to match anything thrown at her from the hefty orchestra in the pit but, at times, she went vocally overboard and her voice took on a hard, brittle edge. The maturity and confidence she exuded in this, one of the great soprano operatic roles, sat rather uneasily with the little-girl demeanour the production imposed on her.

The other principal in the Asian cast was Julian Lo, who was much more convincing as a scheming father at the start than as a grieving one at the end - but he was always vocally firm and dependable.

Both Jonathan Tay (as the Steersman) and Candice de Rozario (as Mary) were in the cast for the previous performances and it showed in the easy fluency of their singing and acting.

Some rather wooden acting elsewhere on stage may well have been down to the production which was, in all other respects, outstanding. Avoiding cliche and contentious innovation, its simple touches, and especially the wonderful Wayang Kulit backdrop brilliantly executed by The Finger Players, made this a very impressive evening entertainment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Asian cast impress in their only performance'. Print Edition | Subscribe