REVIEW / CONCERT
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Diana Damrau (soprano), Nicolas Teste (bass-baritone), Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Pavel Baleff
Esplanade Concert Hall/Wednesday
This was a gala concert aimed at opera lovers and they certainly got their money's worth.
But if, by some astonishing error of judgment, somebody had turned up expecting a standard orchestral concert, he would surely have left this marathon session feeling equally satisfied.
A combination of two marvellous singers, an orchestra on absolutely cracking form and a conductor whose direction was nothing short of inspirational, made this a night to remember.
Pavel Baleff may not be a household name, but his conducting inspired the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) to a level of excellence it rarely achieves and which, one suspects, surprised even the orchestra itself.
Clear, precise, economical with gesture and with a commanding presence which ensured this programme of 16 items flowed seamlessly, Baleff laid his cards on the table at the very start with an incisive and immensely musical interpretation of Rossini's The Barber Of Seville Overture.
The dynamics, ranging from a whimpering whisper to a thrilling thunder, were perfectly measured for maximum effect and the controlled precision of the playing was marvellous to behold.
Even more impressive was the famous Dance Of The Hours, which got the audience screaming with enthusiasm. The Prelude to The Flying Dutchman did much to restore the SSO's Wagner credentials after last weekend's wobbly efforts.
Bass-baritone Nicolas Teste has a voice full of rich, opulent darkness and, compelling as he was in King Phillip's aria from Verdi's Don Carlos, he came into his own in Mogst Du, Mein Kind from The Flying Dutchman.
His austere, monumental vocal presence seemed ideal for the night after Halloween.
The concert's headline act was Teste's wife, soprano Diana Damrau.
The whole programme was a testament to her intelligent and imaginative approach, drawing on arias which were not necessarily what one might have expected, but which brought together genuine musical interest with lavish opportunities to display her vocal powers.
The usual suspects in any operatic soprano recital were there - Una Voce Poco Fa from The Barber Of Seville, Je Veux Vivre from Romeo Et Juliette and, of course, Sempre Libera from La Traviata - as well as relative rarities - from Vincenzo Bellini and Giacomo Meyerbeer.
On all of these, Damrau put her unique stamp, effortlessly filling the hall with a voice which had such physical presence that it was like being drawn into a warm, colourful and intense embrace.
Add to this the occasional pirouette and a great deal of expressive hand action and everything was transformed from being an operatic aria into a vivid and compelling character portrait.
This was singing of a quality few in Singapore will have experienced first-hand.