Singapore take on Wagner's Flying Dutchman

OperaViva, known for its made-in- Singapore operas such as Kannagi (above), will be staging Wagner's The Flying Dutchman later this year, blending Chinese opera with shadow puppetry.
OperaViva, known for its made-in- Singapore operas such as Kannagi (above), will be staging Wagner's The Flying Dutchman later this year, blending Chinese opera with shadow puppetry.PHOTO: OPERAVIVA

Known for two made-in-Singapore operas, OperaViva is reinventing itself with the help of ardent Richard Wagner fans.

The opera company was set up by the late businessman Leow Siak Fah in 2009 to give Singaporean and Asian creators the spotlight.

Its co-founders, writer Robert Yeo and composer John Sharpley, created Kannagi, an operatic staging of an Indian legend about a vengeful princess, and Fences, an interracial love story set in 1960s Singapore.

Kannagi was performed to critical acclaim in 2009 and 2014, while Fences received similarly good reviews in 2012.

When Mr Leow died last year, the company hit a snag in terms of funding and direction, until members of the Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) stepped in. The group is made up of about 50 opera lovers who travel around the world to get their Wagner fix and organise talks on Wagnerian operas at home.

  • Upcoming productions


    What: New Opera Singapore presents Jacques Offenbach's take on the myth of Orpheus, who journeyed to the land of the dead to bring back his wife Euridice. Where: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place When: 7.30pm, Friday and Sunday Admission: $25, $40 and $60 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to


    What: Singapore Lyric Opera stages the tale of a merciless Chinese princess who executes her suitors if they cannot answer three riddles. Where: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive When: 8pm, Aug 26, 27, 29 and 30 Admission: $50 to $150 from Sistic


    What: A Dutchman is cursed to sail the seas until he is saved by a woman's love. Co-produced by OperaViva and Richard Wagner Association (Singapore), in association with The Finger Players. Where: Victoria Theatre When: 6.30pm, Oct 23; 7.30pm, Oct 25, 27, 28; 3pm, Oct 30 Admission: $46 to $146 from Sistic


    What: L'arietta Productions presents three comic chamber operas including one set during a zombie apocalypse. Where: Aliwal Arts Centre, 28 Aliwal Street When: Nov 5 and 6 Info: Tickets are not on sale yet

The members want to share their love of Western opera with more people in Singapore and make the art form accessible and relevant to the audience.

Working with theatre group The Finger Players, OperaViva and Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) are staging a major production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at Victoria Theatre in October.

The story of a sailor condemned to roam the seas until redeemed by love will be co-directed by well- known theatre-makers Chong Tze Chien of The Finger Players and Glen Goei. The staging, which is expected to cost more than half a million dollars, will blend Chinese opera with shadow puppetry.

Dr Ronald Ling, 51, vice-president of Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) and chairman of OperaViva, says: "We want to make opera more relevant so people in Asia can identify with it. Rather than seeing people dressed in 18th-century costumes and wigs, we'll work with home-grown theatre groups to update the operas for the local context."

Working with Singaporean theatre- makers is key to building an audience here for the operas that he and his association members enjoy.

He says: "People who may not be interested in music will come to see what artists such as Glen Goei and Chong Tze Chien are doing."

Giving Singaporean theatremakers the reins also helps build the talent pool here.

In addition, singers from Singapore and the region will take the starring role in one of the five shows of The Flying Dutchman planned for October. The other four will be helmed by rising international stars Kathleen Parker, a soprano from Australia, and Ukrainian baritone Oleksandr Pushniak.

OperaViva also stages smaller events, such as last year's Love Me, Love Me Not!, which reinterpreted a Mozart opera, Bastien & Bastienne, as a romance between a chicken rice stallholder and a kopi tiam worker. Four shows were staged at three community centres around the island and the audience loved it, says Ms Juliana Lim, 65, president of Richard Wagner Association (Singapore).

She says: "Opera is just a beautiful story set to music. If you can enjoy The Lord Of The Rings, you can enjoy Wagner's Ring Cycle. It has better music."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore take on Wagner's Flying Dutchman'. Print Edition | Subscribe