Day 20

30 Days Of Art With NAC: Songs of uncertainty, loss and yearning

To inspire and uplift readers as the country emerges from the Covid-19 circuit breaker, The Straits Times, supported by the National Arts Council as part of the #SGCultureAnywhere campaign, has commissioned 30 works by local writers and artists on the pandemic and what it will be like when all this is over

The Opera People perform for the National Arts Council and The Straits Times' 30 Days Of Art series.
(From far left) Soprano Teng Xiang Ting, Opera People co-founder and tenor Jonathan Tay and pianist Beatrice Lin.
(From left) Soprano Teng Xiang Ting, Opera People co-founder and tenor Jonathan Tay and pianist Beatrice Lin.PHOTO: THE OPERA PEOPLE

Songs spanning the 18th to the 20th centuries are The Opera People's picks for music that resonates during the pandemic.

Its programme for the National Arts Council and The Straits Times' 30 Days Of Art series is titled To Our Distant Beloveds.

The company's co-founder, tenor Jonathan Tay, 35, chose songs from the Italian repertoire "because of the passion in the writing and music".

He adds: "Musica Proibita talks about hearing a love song from the confines of our home, a song that stirs up passions in our hearts.

"Ti Voglio Tanto Bene is a declaration of love to our loved ones, a song for all those dear to our hearts. And Nicola Valente's Torna is a song about being away from the one most dear to our hearts, a tribute to those who have lost loved ones or are kept away from those they love because of this pandemic."

Soprano Teng Xiang Ting, 31, thinks Francis Poulenc's C, which "describes the destruction and desolation that France experienced during the two world wars", is befitting of these troubled times.

"In the light of the ravages that Covid-19 has left all over the world in so many seen and unseen ways, I thought it a particularly apt piece for this time. Pain, loss and the quiet observance of our scars is something I believe we've all been through," she says.

Not all the tunes are depressing, as Teng points out. Mozart's An Chloe is a breath of fresh air. "It speaks of a young lad's passionate ardour and his excitement about being physically near his sweetheart."

The company's co-founder Shridar Mani, 33, says the group stepped up to the challenges of producing content while observing the strict rules during phase one of the exit from the circuit breaker period.

"One of our considerations in narrowing down the song selection was repertoire that everyone was quite familiar with, so it could be pulled together with just a few conversations and sessions online, before coming together on the performance day," he says.

Like other performing companies forced to shutter for the time being, The Opera People has turned to online platforms to stay in touch with audiences.


Tay says this turned out to be a silver lining in a dismal period, as "the reach that our work has is suddenly magnified".

"An online concert we did at Victoria Concert Hall earlier in the circuit breaker period has hit 15,000 views. If it were a live performance, the attendance would have been closer to a few hundred," he says. "This, of course, brings with it a huge amount of stress for the performers, but in a good way, and has forced us to create in new ways, and bring our art form to more audiences."

But pianist Beatrice Lin says there is no matching the experience of a live performance. "I miss the human connection with my fellow colleagues and a live audience.

"The acoustics of a live performance helps us better communicate and captivate the moment in a shared space where everyone is, for that moment in time, collectively encountering the past in the present in an intellectually stimulating way."

Teng agrees, saying: "I miss everything there is to making and sharing music together with people in real life: to breathe together for a phrase, to align hearts and minds according to where the music leads us, to communicate not just with sound but also with eyes, minds and whole beings - these are all irreplaceable aspects of music-making and performance."

With this programme, Mr Mani says the company hopes to offer people solace in trying times. "The universal experience of this pandemic is one of uncertainty, loss and yearning. We hope that people will, in their own way, find in these songs a way of processing these feelings."

• Listen to The Opera People's To Our Distant Beloveds at

• For more local digital arts offerings, go to to appreciate #SGCultureAnywhere

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2020, with the headline 'Songs of uncertainty, loss and yearning'. Subscribe