DONIZETTII'S L'ELISIR D'AMORE / New Opera Singapore / Review

New Opera Singapore
SIA Theatre, LaSalle College of the Arts
Friday (20 July 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 July 2012 with the title "Startling debut for New Opera".

Opera lovers in Singapore must be pinching themselves. For the first time, there seems to be a semblance of an opera season here. Within the next six weeks, three different operas produced by Singapore’s three opera companies would have run their course. The first, Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto opera L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), received its local premiere under the auspices of the newest group, New Opera Singapore founded by Korean soprano and vocal pedagogue Jeong Ae Ree.

Anyone expecting something like a slicked-up high school musical from the year-old outfit will be pleasantly surprised. It was much, much better than that, extending from the professionalism displayed by all involved despite operating on a shoestring budget. Sung entirely in the original Italian, the provincial setting of sophisticated lass falling for Simpleton Sam was updated to a corporate world of mergers and acquisitions in the 20th century.

The original story from 1832 was silly enough, and its modern equivalent directed by television veteran Goh Ming Siu was to be no less good-humoured. The unforgettable character of charlatan Dulcamara, peddler of potions, received a most outlandish outing from Korean bass Yun Seong Woo (above). He dressed and swanked for the best part like a dope-dealer cum pimp, one so slick that he was actually likeable.

The stage however belonged to soprano Teng Xiang Ting, whose coquettish turned soft-hearted Adina shone radiantly in all her arias, duets and ensemble work. Her pristine voice, powerful yet supple, was one to get totally tipsy with Bordeaux for. Equally comfortable with seamless lines and coloratura turns, it is all the more remarkable that this law graduate in her maiden prima donna role received her vocal schooling completely in Singapore.

Opposite her, Johorean tenor Kee Loi Seng was a hopeful but totally sympathetic janitor Nemorino, his trademark yellow boots had Phua Chu Kang written all over. He too, rose to the occasion and received deserved cheers for his big aria Una furtiva lagrima. Baritone Jeremy Koh and soprano Victoria Lee competently supported as failed suitor Belcore and Adina sidekick Gianetta. All singers including the small but vibrant chorus were amplified to overcome the dry and unflattering acoustics of this venue.

Some areas where improvements may be effected: while the absence of backdrops (other than projections) and props was understandable, the threadbare orchestra conducted by Chan Wei Shing could be further boosted for a richer accompaniment. These are however minor quibbles, for as far as musical values went, New Opera Singapore has notched the first of hopefully many further artistic triumphs.

New Opera Singapore director Jeong Ae Ree (extreme left) with patron Mrs Goh Choo Leng (2nd from left) and her entourage of opera lovers.