Delightful tales of a jealous clown and a witty rogue



Singapore Lyric Opera

Esplanade Theatre/Last Friday

There is a popular title in operatic parlance known as Cav-Pag, which refers to the double bill of verismo operas, the tandem of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci.

Singapore Lyric Opera's latest recent double bill dropped the Cav component, opting instead for Puccini's single-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi, part of his trilogy known as Il Trittico.

This switch made for a lighter and less depressing evening, where not every lead character gets killed.

Director Tom Hawkes cleverly linked the two operas with the common setting of a disused Italian theatre in the post-World War II period for Pagliacci and then moving backwards in time for Schicchi.

It was a quite seamless transition which worked well because of an excellent cast which had some members singing in both operas.

Central to these was Korean tenor Lee Jae Wook, a Lyric Opera regular, who gave a gripping portrayal of the homicidally jealous clown Canio in Pagliacci and then helmed the smaller role of young suitor Rinuccio in Schicchi.

Opposite him was Japanese soprano Sachiko Ito, who was a sympathetic and free-spirited Nedda (Canio's actress wife), who gets stabbed to death by the opera's end and then reappears as the conniving Nella in Schicchi.

The tightly cast Pagliacci also featured Singaporean baritones William Lim and Martin Ng, who acquitted themselves well as the vengeful hunchback Tonio and Nedda's ill-fated lover Silvio.

Schicchi was dominated by British baritone Adrian Clarke in the title role, a worldly wise rogue who cons a fussy Florentine family of its inheritance with a classic bait-and-switch. A combination of wit and smarminess made him likeable, winning the audience to his side with every twist and turn in his scheming.

The Lyric Opera Chorus and Children's Chorus were well trained for the crowd scenes of Pagliacci, adding much colour to the production.

The orchestra conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan supported the music well. It was a revelation to hear both opera's "hit single" arias, often heard in isolation at opera galas, within their original contexts.

Canio's highly anguished Vesti La Giubba, sung as the lead clown dons his make-up and attire, was arresting in Lee's scene-stealing account. Similarly, Lauretta's O Mio Babbino Caro (O My Beloved Father) in Schicchi, sung as a daughter pleads for her father's intervention in the matters of love, was beautifully delivered by young New Zealander soprano Marlena Devoe.

The set design by Christopher Chua with draped columns and pillars was simple and effective, as were Moe Kassim's costumes even though the GI uniforms in Pagliacci's looked like those of boy scouts.

Despite the Lyric Opera's constrained budget, which allows the company only one major production a year, it offered very good value for its efforts. That has been a given through the years.

However, judging from the smallish audience spread through three evenings, notwithstanding the General Election weekend, is this a bad omen for the future of opera performance in Singapore?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Delightful tales of a jealous clown and a witty rogue'. Print Edition | Subscribe