Brave, bold, brilliant

REVIEW / CONCERT

GALA CONCERT 2017: UNREQUITED LOVE

Singapore Lyric Opera

Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Thursday

This year's annual gala concert by the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) provided a glimpse of the future of opera in Singapore.

None of the usual SLO suspects featured in this evening of operatic highlights. Instead, the company rolled out a cast of mostly debutants. Winners of the SLO-Asean Vocal Competition 2016 and SLO-Leow Siak Fah Artists Training Programme Rising Stars accounted for seven new voices among nine singers.

The repertoire choice also had a fresh ring about it, with not a single note of Puccini to be heard.

Two very demanding Handel arias opened the evening, with the competition's first prize winner, mezzo-soprano Samantha Chong Ying Zing (from Malaysia), doing the honours in Dopo Notte from Ariodante.

She had certainly earned that accolade with a performance of clarity and depth of feeling.

In Parto, Ma Tu Ben Mio from Mozart's La Clemenza Di Tito, she upped the ante and was not upstaged by the SLO Orchestra's excellent clarinettist Vincent Goh, whose obbligato part was just as delicious.

Arguably more spectacular was the second-prize winner, soprano Pham Khanh Ngoc (Vietnam), who made light work of Handel's Tornami A Vagheggiar from Alcina, and displayed gravity-defying coloratura abilities in Rossini's Bel Raggio Lusinghier from Semiramide. That last aria was, to these ears, the loftiest of many high points in the evening.

Singaporean baritone Alvin Tan, who won third prize, was also impressive, warming up Korngold's Mein Sehnen Mein Wahnen (Die Tote Stadt) with a rich, burnished tonal colour. This suggests he will have many roles to fill in the near future.

The company's artist training programme, named in memory of founding chairman Leow Siak Fah, which mentors locally based singers, has also borne fruit. Five singers - sopranos Zhang Jie (China) and Cherie Tse (Singapore), mezzo-sopranos Chieko Sato (Japan) and Zerlina Tan (Singapore), and tenor Leslie Tay (Singapore) - were involved in ensemble roles from Bizet's Carmen (Act 3) and Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte (Act 1).

The SLO Chorus and Children's Choir livened up the proceedings with choruses from Carmen (Les Voici), Cosi Fan Tutte (Bella Vita Militar) and Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel And Gretel (Evening Prayer).

The orchestra conducted by Jason Lai played an excellent supporting role throughout and had the bubbly Overture to Mozart's The Marriage Of Figaro all to itself.

As a sneak preview to next year's production of Verdi's Aida, two favourite arias were trotted out by two more experienced singers making cameo appearances. Tenor Kee Loi Seng portrayed the heroic Radames in Celeste Aida while soprano Jessica Chen was spine-tingling in Ritorna Vincitor.

The evening closed memorably with Gloria All'Egitto (Triumphal March) with choir and orchestra. There was no Brindisi (Drinking Song from La Traviata) as encore this time around, but it was stirring all the same.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2017, with the headline 'Brave, bold, brilliant'. Print Edition | Subscribe