The Merry Widow gets 1920s glitz

The Merry Widow's cast includes home-grown tenor Melvin Tan and British-Sri Lankan soprano Kishani Jayasinghe (both left).
The Merry Widow's cast includes home-grown tenor Melvin Tan and British-Sri Lankan soprano Kishani Jayasinghe (both left). PHOTO: SINGAPORE LYRIC OPERA

The Merry Widow's tale of millions and manipulation will be given a glamorous update in the Singapore Lyric Opera's upcoming production, which features a glitzy 1920s setting and a cast of fresh young faces.

Helmed by British director David Edwards, it will stick to the famous comedic plot: When a widow inherits 20 million francs from her late husband, her countrymen try as hard as they can to keep the fortune in the country by finding her a husband.

But instead of its original setting in the early 1900s, it will be set in the roaring 1920s, with the singers dressed in what Edwards says are "glamorous, exotic" dresses.

"It's not a big update, as it was written in 1905. But it seemed to me that the spirit of the piece was kind of crazy, so I was looking to set it in a period of wild energy and the 1920s seemed to be an era which captured the spirit quite well," he says.

Edwards, 57, will also be bringing a stylised movement quality to the work, which was created by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehar. He has incorporated into the show techniques such as freezing in tableaux and deliberately slowing down movements. "It's a question of slowing it down, so there's a stillness which allows us to really listen to this fantastic music Lehar has written," he explains.

Bringing his vision to life will be a local and international cast, featuring British-Sri Lankan soprano Kishani Jayasinghe in the titular role, and several recent Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts graduates, including freelance singing teacher Jeremy Koh.

Koh, 25, who has sung with the company in chorus before, plays the part of French diplomat Raoul de St Brioche, one of the widow's suitors - his first solo role in an opera.

He says this is "definitely a milestone" for him. "There is a difference in expectations from the director and the conductor.

"There is not so much blending in anymore, but I have to stand out and hold the character and force myself to shine. It requires a bit more confidence."

He will be joined by his coursemate Su Yiwen, 23, who also graduated from the academy earlier this year. She will be playing Sylviane, wife of the Pontevedrin consul, who has an affair with another diplomat.

She says: "In this performance, there are new elements which are very creative, especially in this edition of the opera. There is a lot of dialogue between the characters and you can see clearly what happens in their relationships."

This production of The Merry Widow will be especially significant for local tenor Melvin Tan, 35, who will be performing the role of Cascada, a Latin diplomat who is also after the widow's wealth. This is his 10th year singing with the Singapore Lyric Opera, since his debut in 2004 in the same role.

He still remembers his first steps on stage as a rookie performer. "It's very daunting and I can definitely empathise with my younger colleagues. When I did it, I was a youngster, in my second or third year of music school.

"Now I have much more experience and stagecraft. Everything feels a lot more natural, I have greater depth and facility and I don't have to fight to display emotion on stage."

He also recalls that the company's staging of the opera 10 years ago was a very "traditional" affair.

"This time around, it's directed by David Edwards who doesn't go by the conventional route. It's quite interesting, the way he envisions the opera - it's set in the 1920s, very Art Deco, very Great Gatsby.

"It's a different take on a classic. People who have seen the last one can look forward to something different."

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