Friday, 28 October 2016

THE FLYING DUTCHMAN / Thoughts on the Asian Cast evening on 27 October 2016

Richard Wagner Society (Singapore)
Asian Cast  performance (27 October 2016)

I had the fortune of attending the production of The Flying Dutchman by the Richard Wagner Society (Singapore) for a second time, on this occasion a performance by an all-Asian cast. How did it compare with than the Singapore premiere performed by the International cast. Were there major differences?

I am happy to report that the opera scene in Singapore has progressed to such a point that the differences were not at all about standards of performances, and the mostly local cast could stand tall alongside the internationals. Physical stature alone was the main disparity, as the internationals were mammoths or amazons both in size and voice, but the locals made up in different ways.

Only two characters were common in both casts, Jonathan Tay's Steersman and Candice de Rosario's Mary. Tay was a bright and youthful presence in the opening aria while Rosario was ever-dependable in her smallish role.  

As Daland, baritone Julian Lo appeared almost puny, but his acting and characterisation of the role was superb. One could tell his intentions by just looking into his eyes and facial expressions. His voice, although not as towering as Andreas Horl's, was still well projected. Our Dutchman, bass-baritone Martin Ng is a six-footer but still small by Oleksandr Pushniak standards. He commanded a presence with his voice, which got better as the evening progressed. The main issue is a ramrod and strait-jacketed demeanour in his red suit, as if he were directed to portray a character of perpetual “stoic stiffness”.

Soprano Nancy Yuen in her Wagnerian debut as Senta was a pleasant surprise. She did not let her petite size (she is really tiny compared with Kathleen Parker) get in her way. The smitten youth she portrayed was as real as it gets, and her Second Act Ballad was convincing, even if one knew she was close to the upper limits of her abilities. She was made to work hard, and the credit was just in her giving it all, something we know to expect whenever she takes on a role. Tenor Kee Loi Seng as Erik, Senta's hunter boyfriend, was in ways preferable to Jakub Pustina. Playing the forsaken lover, his clear voice never strained and his intonation was never an issue.

The issues that dogged the choirs remained despite the earlier experience, and offstage choral amplification. 11 men were just too small for the sailors to make a real impact. Doubling the number on stage would have helped, as well as getting more powerful voices, and both. The women were better overall, with the intonation issues on the first night were more or less ironed out, and their acting was also more natural.

The direction by Glen Goei and Chong Tze Chien of the Finger Players was unique, putting an Southeast Asian twist to the story-telling with the use wayang kulit and shadow puppet-play. These came to play in the Overture and many scenes, where shadows and silhouettes skilfully took the place of expensive and bulky sets. That alone was worth the ticket of entry.

Attending a second evening of The Flying Dutchman was a rare pleasure, and I would urge others to do the same as there are two more performances, on Friday (28 October) and Sunday (30 October). Do note that this was the Asian cast’s only evening out, as the production returns to the international cast for the final two evenings.      

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