Lieder and art song have a very small following among local audiences, so miniscule that attendances are often discouraging to performers and presenters, who can never hope to recoup costs of mounting recitals. Nevertheless, groups like The Sing Song Club and New Opera Singapore persevere, if only to give its singers the chance to perform this repertoire, and hope that some people do listen.
Only 32 souls were present to witness Dichterliebe & Hermit Songs, a recital of two song cycles performed by 10 young singers of New Opera Singapore at The Arts House's Chamber on Tuesday. Six of the singers were making their debuts. Despite being young, they acquitted themselves well in this serious art form, suggesting that some might even go on to have real singing careers.
The audience was asked the rhetorical question, "What is love?", a prelude to Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe (Poet's Love). With words in German by Heinrich Heine, its 16 songs were shared by four men, beginning with tenor Isaac Ho in the opening Im Wunderschoenen Monat Mai (In The Marvellous Month Of May). The debutant impressed in this and three other songs with his clear, ringing tone and ardent demeanour, providing the ideal setting for the season to fall in love.
Tenor Shaun Lee, a lawyer by training, has advanced his craft in leaps and bounds over the months, registering fine performances in four songs, including The Rose, The Lily, The Dove, The Sun and Ich Grolle Nicht (I Complain Not), with the kind of passion and projection that will fill concert halls. American tenor Sam Garcia, a university exchange student, exhibited a wide range of emotions, not least earnestness in Wenn Ich In Deine Augen Seh (When I Gaze Into Your Eyes) and playful humour in Ein Jungling Liebt Ein Madchen (A Lad Loves A Girl).
Baritone Lim Jing Jie, presently serving national service, used his deep, gravelly voice to good effect in Im Rhein (In the Rhine) and Am Leuchtenden Sommermorgen (On A Gleaming Summer Morn), another artist who has matured with time. Pianist Lim Yan was more than mere accompanist, and as the final song Die Alten Boesen Lieder (The Old And Evil Songs) proved, his part extended long after tenor Garcia had sung his last note.
Six women shared duties in Three Songs Op.45 and Hermit Songs by American Samuel Barber, songs of a spiritual and other-worldly nature which provided a different kind of challenge. Subtlety was a virtue which soprano Laura Lim possessed, but she could do with greater heft and characterisation in the Op.45 songs written for the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
The five other sopranos had Leontyne Price's act to emulate in the 10 Hermit Songs, based on an ancient Irish writings. Rachel Ong shook off nerves to deliver At St. Patrick's Purgatory and St Ita's Vision with good control in high registers, not an easy task. Rachel Lim displayed crystal clear diction in Church Bell At Night and the jazzy The Monk And His Cat. Moira Loh, already a veteran of many productions, was at her expressive best in The Heavenly Banquet and the brief but enigmatic Promiscuity.
Gwen Chua, who sang The Crucifixion, will build on confidence with time, but her passion in Sea Snatch was never in doubt. Finally Rebecca Li, the team's most experienced singer, brought the cycle to an ecstatic but reflective close in The Praises Of God and The Desire For Hermitage. Translations and surtitles for all the songs were screened, a good aid for audience appreciation, and all 10 singers donned Asian ethnic costumes, which made it a feast for the eyes as well.