Fun opera apocalypse keeps kids riveted




Aliwal Arts Centre


Halloween has come and gone, but its macabre spirit lingered on for newly formed local opera company L'arietta's latest production, which cramped three short operas into a single act.

The black box space in Aliwal Arts Centre was transformed into a spooky cavern with Halloween paraphernalia and two wine bars, one of which was tended by the monosyllabic tenor Reuben Lai in a scenario where the world was coming to a cataclysmic end.

A newsflash announced that an asteroid was hurtling towards Earth and extinction was imminent in 10 minutes, which was when tenor Leslie Tay's Figaro Montague and soprano Kristin Symes' Carmen Capulet came into the picture in the first opera, Figaro's Last Hangover by Patrick Soluri. Short snippets from the eponymous operas were relived, with old loves rekindled for one last time.

This was not so much a scena lyrique, but an acted-out melodrama, where the singers' vivid characterisation of the comedic characters stole the show. Their voices were clearly projected and no surtitles were needed. As their surnames suggested, the couple soon began feuding over past amours and the romance unravelled to laughter from the audience.

The impending disaster was, however, delayed, which allowed for Michael Hurd's The Widow Of Ephesus, the longest and most lyrical part of the trilogy, to be played out.

Here the vocal qualities of the singers came to the fore. Symes' cynical Maid, Lai's unlikely Soldier and soprano Angela Hodgins' grieving Widow shone in this romance but took place outside a tomb.

What would happen when the Soldier's dereliction of duty as a result of his tryst threatened to lead to a court-martial and possible execution?

A neat solution provided by swopping corpses saved the day, with all parties happy in the end. The Widow got a new lover while the Soldier got off the hook.

Mary Ann Tear's direction ensured that story-telling and interaction between performers, television screen and the informally seated audience (which included many children kept in rapt attention) remained paramount.

This was vital in conveying the message that modern opera could be unstuffy, accessible and even fun. Music director Aloysius Foong was an ever-alert presence with his demanding part sympathetically helmed on the piano.

The asteroid then struck and the characters survived, but Earth was overrun by the living dead, which was the basis of the concluding opera, Soluri's Figaro And The Zombie Apocalypse.

The lovelorn Figaro returned to the bar for one last fling, as did Carmen, but never the twain shall meet as the squabbles began once again.

As this entertaining production suggested, some things are destined not to change, even after the zombies have come home.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2016, with the headline Fun opera apocalypse keeps kids riveted. Subscribe