The Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) plans an epic but relatively minimalist staging of one of the world's most popular operas, Giuseppe Verdi's Aida, in June at the Esplanade Theatre.
The production will cost around $1 million and feature 100 singers, actors and dancers. This is one of the biggest productions the SLO has mounted since its 100-strong Turandot in 2008, though small for an opera sometimes presented with elephants and a 200-tonne set including pyramids.
This is also the first time the SLO is staging the tragic romance set in ancient Egypt, though its singers often perform music from Aida during the annual gala and other concerts.
Artistic director Nancy Yuen, 57, says: "Lots of people are so familiar with some of the music, it's about time the full opera is staged in the theatre in Singapore."
Verdi's Aida premiered in 1871 to celebrate the opening of the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo.
It follows the star-crossed romance of the captured Ethiopian princess Aida and her captor, Egyptian general Radames. Both are torn between their feelings and patriotic duties.
Singapore audiences may recall a 2005 version of Aida at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, where elephants, a pyramid and about 1,000 people were put on stage.
BOOK IT / VERDI'S AIDA
WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive
WHEN: June 1, 2, 5 and 6, 8pm; June 3, 5pm
ADMISSION: $48, $68, $108, $138 and $178 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
That production cost $4 million and was presented by Global Entertainment (Singapore) in association with SunVic Productions.
However, Yuen and veteran opera director Andrew Sinclair want their Aida to forget the pomp and focus on the relationships between characters.
Australia-born Sinclair, 64, says: "We shouldn't clutter the stage with irrelevant objects, but allow the singers to convey the drama and the beauty of the music."
He has directed Aida three times before - once in Australia and twice in the United States.
He speaks of the famous Triumphal March, where Radames leads his victorious army back to Egypt and Aida sees her father among the Ethiopian captives.
"Everyone expects it to be a parade of elephants and camels, whereas what goes on in that scene is an extremely intimate drama between the principals," he says.
"The background of the scene is very narcissistic - the Egyptians priding themselves on how great they have been in the war against Ethiopia, but the drama of Aida, her father and Radames and the captured people is very personal. It's not a scene about elephants and camels."
SLO could not confirm the cast by print time, though Yuen has sung the role of Aida some years ago with the Dublin Opera and Kentish Opera.
Two singers will be cast in each leading role. Singers will include those trained by the SLO's two-year-old SLO-Leow Siak Fah Artist Training Programme and voices identified by the Asean Vocal Competition it organised last year.
Yuen says: "We really hope our audience will grow and that more young people will come and enjoy this golden art form of glorious sound and sight.
"Verdi wrote 'pop' music of his time as his tunes were all hauntingly mesmerising and Aida was no exception."