Concert review: This operatic love hotel was worth checking into

New Opera Singapore, the young opera company founded by Korean soprano Jeong Ae Ree, may be seen as Singapore's foremost academy for budding opera singers. Its annual major productions have been critically received, while its lighter Opera Comique series continues to tickle and tease.

Opera Comique At The Hotel, the fourth instalment to date, was yet another laugh-a-minute mix and match of operatic highlights and farcical comedy.

While previous runs were likened to the long-enduring British Carry On series, this one was more a cross between Fawlty Towers and Love Boat. Singapore's Hotel Amour is a Jalan Besar-like family-run establishment where an irascible Mr Chow (played by tenor Shaun Lee) tries to keep his three love-sick daughters in check while aiming to accommodate his guests.

Goh Ming Siu's scenario stringing 15 arias and duets together within a 90-minute frame worked because the audience is already used to the MediaCorp local brand of humour and Robert Jenkin's direction, which included the house lights going off whenever hanky panky is being suggested. It was left to the eight young singers to deliver the vocal goodies on a plate.

As with previous Opera Comiques, the girls mostly outsang the boys. When two of your daughters are named Lakme and Mallika, the result could only be Delibes's Flower Duet, beautifully blended by Moira Loh and Rebecca Li respectively. The third daughter Natalia had a bit part, with Ashley Chua comfortably handling Donne Veghe from Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona.

Diva of past productions Teng Xiang Ting was underused as forlorn hotel guest Dora, and one should be content with enjoying just a few short minutes of her Puccini, Donde Lieta Usci (La Boheme) and Ch'il Bel Sogno Di Doretta (La Rondine), however lovely.

It was left for Li's Mallika, a Cinderella character, to steal the show with arias from Donizetti's Don Pasquale and Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus, displaying an enviable prowess in both bel canto and coloratura singing.

Tenors Jonathan Khoo and Shaun Lee sounded overstretched in Mozart and Donizetti arias respectively, although the latter should be commended for a credible La Donna E Mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto. Baritone Lim Jingjie's small frame seemed at odds with his Don Giovanni Serenade by Mozart, but beside Loh in the duet La Ci Darem La Mano, a nice balance was struck.

This leaves angst-ridden tenor Joseph Yap How Joo, easily the best male voice on show. His two passionately lugubrious songs, Tosti's L'Ultima Canzone and Cilea's Il Lamento Di Federico (L'Arlesiana), the latter accompanying laughable failed attempts at suicide, were heart-wrenching to say the least.

Pianist Pauline Lee proved a sensitive partner, and was even obliged to play Chinese hotel lounge music as a prelude to the serious stuff. All eight singers were united at the production's close with a rousing Soave Sia Il Vento from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte. New Opera Singapore's production of Die Fledermaus in late July should be worth waiting for.

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