Chinese extravaganza



Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall/

Last Saturday

Only one work in the Silk Road Extravaganza concert by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) had anything to do with the fabled ancient Silk Road.

That was Jiang Ying's The Silk Road, a 10-minute-long fantasy that used Central Asian melodies featuring solo dizi, suona and gaohu at its outset, then launched into a crescendo, with plucked strings and percussion leading the dance procession to a raucous conclusion.

This concert led by SCO music director Yeh Tsung was in fact one of the opera highlights sponsored by the Singapore office of the Bank of China.

That would explain Hu Xiaoliu's brief overture with the undisguised title, The Pride Of Bank Of China, a feel-good piece which opened like the introduction of The Blue Danube and closed in rousing march rhythm.

The ensuing songs and arias were distributed into five suites beginning with Journey To The West (with well-known Chinese songs) and Golden Songs From Europe, which introduced three Chinese opera stars in a manner not dissimilar to those Three Tenors galas.

Soprano Huang Ying, renowned for playing Cio Cio San in Puccini's Madama Butterfly, was easily the star of the evening. Her faultless vocal apparatus and projection matched the natural ease and sheer sensuality of her delivery.

There was no Puccini sung, but in Delibes' Les Filles De Cadix (The Girls Of Cadiz) and Rossini's Una Voce Poco Fa (The Barber Of Seville), she stamped her class in spectacular coloratura runs and coquettish teases.

Even her take on Gershwin's Summertime (Porgy And Bess) had much feeling and allure.

A rising name in opera, baritone Zhou Zhengzhong was vocally convincing in Rossini's freewheeling Largo Al Factotum (The Barber Of Seville), the tricky La Promessa (also by Rossini) and Lehar's Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz (from The Land Of Smiles).

One only wished he had a greater range of movement and non-verbal expression, so he would not be mistaken for a singing statue.

Tenor Zhang Jianyi was clearly past his best, with his soft and wafer-thin voice mostly fighting hard to transcend the orchestra. He could hold some long notes though, in Donizetti's Una Furtiva Lagrima (L'Elisir D'Amore) and Bring Him Home (Les Miserables) from the Best Hits From Musicals segment.

Generating most excitement were songs which involved all three singers.

The ubiquitous O Sole Mio was accomplished without Three Tenors-upmanship of stretching out long-held notes and trills, and patriotism welled up for Liu Chi's My Homeland. These two songs sung during the encore received a noisy reception.

The mostly Chinese audience also showed much appreciation for the Chinese songs, which included Why Are The Flowers So Red, Heavenly Road, Vagrant's Homesickness, Follow You, China My Love and Silky Acacia.

However, the lack of concert etiquette was telling. There were many people who thought nothing of talking, walking in and out, and using their brightly illuminated mobile phones to take photos while the music was playing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese extravaganza'. Print Edition | Subscribe