The magic of three mini-operas in one hour

(From left) Jameson Soh, Akiko Otao, Wayne Teo, Angela Hodgins, Reuben Lai and Brent Allcock in L'arietta's first production. Teo provides the musical accompaniment. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG




10 Square, Orchard Central/Last Saturday

Say hello to L'arietta, Singapore's newest opera company. L'arietta, which means "little song" in Italian, was formed by local tenor Reuben Lai and Japanese soprano Akiko Otao to promote the niche genre of chamber opera. Both profess that opera is relevant to today's cultures and mores even in its most diminutive form, far removed from the grand spectacles of Wagner and Verdi.

Its debut production showcased three such mini-operas in a single sitting, each refreshingly different and moving in its own way.

British composer Joseph Horovitz's The Gentleman's Island was a dark comedy about two stuffy Englishmen stranded on a deserted island. They were initially distant because they had not been previously introduced, but readily bonded when they realised they knew a mutual friend Robinson.

Jameson Soh's eloquent and effective stage direction had the gentlemen marooned on separate wooden blocks but joined by a physical and metaphorical umbilical cord.

Tenor Lai and baritone Brent Allcock were excellent in their characterisations of self-consciousness and overriding pride. Their clear dulcet tones meant that the audience could catch their every single word and nuance. Even when rescue arrived in the form of Robinson, they rejected him because he came in a convict ship. The folly of death by pride was their ultimate comeuppance.

The second opera was Singaporean Chen Zhangyi's Window Shopping, about the diametrically opposing reactions of two women when they entered a high-end shoe shop. Mezzo-soprano Angela Hodgins' older lady sang of regret and soured memories while soprano Otao's young waif was ecstatic about the choice of heels available to her.

Chen's score cleverly used a ground bass, which represented the plodding footsteps people make when they go shopping, also symbolic of the trudges in life itself. While Hodgins' part was elegiac, Otao's was whimsical and jazzy. Ultimately both came to the realisation that life was not about acquiring assets (such as new shoes replacing old ones) but how to look after them.

The final opera brought back all four singers in Samuel Barber's A Hand Of Bridge. What lurked in the minds of those who pit their wits in a game of small stakes? The scenario of failed marriages and dysfunctional characters revealing their innermost desires and fears were neatly encapsulated in four ariettas.

Angela longed for a hat of peacock feathers, while Reuben lusted after an extramarital affair. Akiko fretted about her mother's frail health, and Brent craved power and riches. Such was the flawed fabric and tapestry of life, where each individual had to come to terms with his or her own foibles and realities.

Accompanying this production was young pianist Wayne Teo, who more than coped with the disparate styles and complexities thrown at him. That the filled-to-capacity audience, with many children in attendance, sat in rapt attention throughout was ample testimony to the talents of the performers.

Clock-watchers might like to note the duration of each opera: 28 minutes (Horovitz) + 21 minutes (Chen) + 10 minutes (Barber) = 59 minutes. Three operas in one hour? Mission accomplished.

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