Wednesday, March 31, 2010

REVIEW: The Turn of the Screw by The Mariinsky Opera

I was pleasantly impressed with the performance.
I need to put forward that I am writing this after a whirlwind weekend of theatre going. I saw Britten’s Turn of the Screw performed by The Mariinsky Opera on 27th of March afternoon at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Grand Theatre. This was followed by the concert of The Mariinsky Orchestra in the evening at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Concert Hall. The following day, noontime, I went to The Metropolitan Opera HD Live’s screening of Les Conte’s d’Hoffmann at the Bethanie; followed by once again The Mariinsky Orchestra in the evening at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Concert Hall. I can’t remember the last time I had such a busy cultural weekend in Hong Kong. Of course, outside Hong Kong especially in New York and London, this kind of weekend was the standard. My record so far is 5 shows in two days.

This production of Turn of the Screw by David McVicar arrived Hong Kong tried and tested. It was created in St. Petersburg for The Mariinsky Opera and later on had a revival at the English National Opera in London. Upon knowing that this is the opera that the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival will have for this year, I can’t help but feel that they are being cheap by bringing in a chamber opera with only six performers rather than the whole package that comes with a grand opera. Oh well…

The moment I realized that I will be seating on the first row of the stall, I was kind of worried. First, this will be my first time to see this opera; second, I believe that I do need the surtitles even though the opera will be in English. Yes, even opera in English needs surtitles especially if it will be sang by Russians; at least that was what I thought. Luckily, there were English surtitles at the side of the proscenium where it used to have only Chinese. Couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to see the Bolshoi Opera perform Stravinsky’s The Rake Progress in Moscow. While the original opera is in English, I thought that the Bolshoi had translated it into Russian. I only realized that they were singing in English half way through the opera. The English diction however of the cast in the Turn of the Screw was admirable.

The success of the opera was a result of how well the opera tread on ambiguity and how well the production made the most out of it. It was the slow discovery, the doubt whether the ghosts were real or not, the doubt whether the governess was imagining things or not that made this production unsettlingly good.

As the opera started, I can’t help but feel that the atmosphere of the staging was very film noir. Though the opera is not the typical crime drama associated in film noir cinematography, the low-key black-and-white visual style was apparent and very effective. The play on silhouetted figures and echoing shadows heightened the anticipated menace. However, it was also this immediate threat that somehow lessens the sense of discovery to just plain creepiness. It was not able to establish a sense of normality at the start. The set didn’t help either in this aspect as the dusty windows and untidy floor almost immediately tell us that the place is haunted and therefore, the governess should just turn around and go home.

The production’s use of stage-people clad in period costumes moving furniture on the stage were very distracting and confusing. One moment, they were supposed to be household staff, while another time, they were supposed to be a 'force' that move the bed.

I am being very picky. The reality is that I truly enjoyed it as it was. The orchestra led by Valery Gergiev was thoroughly effective in delivering that disproportionate sound that Britten is known for. The orchestra always sounded more than the sum of its parts. The cast was very well-balanced. Everyone contributed with expressive singing complemented with appropriately scaled acting. Yekaterina Solovieva in the role of the governess showed good-heartedness and despair even in her unidiomatic English. Andre Ilyushnikov’s Peter Quint was elegantly spooky with his clear resonant tenor voice. His diction in particular was very comprehensible. Flora, sung by Larisa Yelina, stood out for her bright and youthful tone.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

REVIEW: Cosi Fan Tutte by the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts

It was as much fun as watching community theatre. It was less about the performance but more on the effort they put in.
The first time I went to a Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA) opera years ago, I was kind of surprised in a bad way on how far they were compared to ‘real’ opera singers that I have seen in opera houses. However, I try to go to the school’s presentation every year not because I have a masochistic streak in me, but because it is at this point in their singing life that they needed the most support (read reality check).

The opera is Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, directed by Nancy Yuen and conducted by Alan Cumberland. I went to the 25th of March performance at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts Drama Theatre. It was a very brave choice to choose Cosi Fan Tutte as it is one of those operas that the lead singers need to know how to do well both in solos and in ensemble. This school production, as usual, was truncated and the chorus was removed, leaving the six singers to carry the opera.

Cosi Fan Tutte is an opera buffa by Mozart with Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto. It is one of the three Mozart-Da Ponte collaborations and the one I like the least. The title, literally means “Thus do all (women)”, is about two men testing the loyalties of their girlfriends. It is part comedy, part tragedy. It is a sardonic study of love, trust and shameless manipulation. While I have several recordings of this opera, I have only seen it twice performed before and both of the same Jonathan Miller production for the Royal Opera House. The first time was in the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1998 (when the Royal Opera House was being renovated); while the second time was in 2007 at the Covent Garden. While the cast in the Salisbury Theatre may not be as starry as the one in the Covent Garden, somehow it worked. The venue was smaller and perhaps for that reason, the singers sounded right. From this experience, I can see why Cosi Fan Tutte can possibly work very well in the Drama Theatre.

Alan Cumberland held the music tightly and was very sympathetic to the singers. Among the six singers on stage, Athene Mok’s Despina was a joy to witness. While the voice may not be big, the tone was bright, the production was even and the best part, she was “HD-ready” (as opera singers refer to those who are physically attractive and ready for high definition broadcasts). Shaddai Amor Solidum’s Fiordiligi was very animated and was consistent in her characterization. Vocally, the tone of her voice in different ranges tends to change. She performed best in the higher range when the sound is focused and round. However, her vibrato was too fast for my taste as it tended to interfere with the music. Dorabella was performed by a very tall Emily Liu. While the voice showed a lot of promise, there was a lack of color and congruity with the text. Eric Iglesia Ferrer infused the role of Ferrando with a silent movie charm. While his higher notes, when supported, sounded beautifully, he had difficulty maintaining it. Raoul Chan’s Guglielmo was elegant. While his acting maybe constraint, his even voice phrased and paced neatly. Revan Yu as Don Alfonso should plan his future carefully.

Most of the solo parts were good enough to make sitting in the theatre enjoyable. The ensemble parts, on the other hand, owned most of the cringe moment. The voices were very dissimilar that it had difficulty producing the sonority and harmony expected in a Mozart opera. Aside from the dreadful make-up by Liz Wong that made the ladies looked like drag queens, the idea of setting the production in the roaring 1920’s was an acceptable and refreshing proposition. The set, though simple was adequate, yet I do like the minor details like having the surtitles framed in an art deco border.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

REVIEW: Don Quixote by The Mariinsky Ballet

At least Don Quixote in the musical Man of La Mancha has The Impossible Dream song, Don Quixote in the ballet Don Quixote has just a lot of walking around. The title should have been Kitri and Basilio. Don Quixote by The Mariinsky Ballet is part of the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival. I went to the 21st of March performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Grand Theatre in which the husband and wife Denis and Anastasia Matvienko danced the role of Kitri and Basilio.

My first experience of Don Quixote was with Filipino prima ballerina Lisa Macuja in the role of Kitri about 22 years ago. I can’t remember who was playing Basilio. All I can remember was that I was totally enthralled by Ms. Macuja’s performance and I gave her a standing ovation. Lisa Macuja, after graduating from the Leningrad Choreographic School at St. Petersburg in 1984 became the first foreign soloist to be invited to join The Kirov (now called Mariinsky) Ballet. This, together with my experience in seeing this company in their home theatre in St. Petersburg created a very high expectation, perhaps too high.

The ballet is inspired by the literature of Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. Set to the music of Ludwig Minkus, the ballet was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1869 and restaged by Alexander Gorsky in 1900. The ballet enjoyed immense popularity, not for its deep drama, but for its structure which showcases the technical prowess of the soloists, the opulence of the costumes and the wonderful stage design. I have long accepted Don Quixote as a series of sets of beautiful dances punctuated with comic and mime in-between; and this is exactly how the Mariinsky designed their production.

For this production, it had the old world grandness (read old-fashion yet not stale). The stage was filled up with performers that kept the festive mood afloat. Aside, from the soloists, the rest of the corps look like they were a mix of ballet dancers and folk dancers. All of them can dance (read they dance to the music), but their physique, agility, flexibility and technique were as varied as a basket of tropical fruits! At its best, the Dryad scene was almost uniform and a pleasure to watch.

Focusing on the soloists, Denis and Anastasia Matvienko were both a thrill to see. Their mastery of the classical technique was beautifully balanced in both partnering and solo moments. Anastasia was most impressive in her turns and leaps, which were smooth and smothered with athletic elegance. Denis has splendid line and solid technique which showed in both his solos and in how he enhanced the partnership in the pas de deaux. The partnership was of pure confidence, utter ease and total fluidity. Everytime they were on stage, it was always a firework of legs!

Other soloists worth mentioning are Karen Ioanissian as Espada, the toreador. He had the bearing, good looks and classiness of a toreador that would have explained why Carmen will ditch Jose in the Bizet’s opera. Oksana Skoryk as the Queen of Dryads gave a fine performance that almost threatened to compete with Anastasia Matvienko’s Dulcinea.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

REVIEW: On The Waterfront, a production of Nottingham Playhouse + Richard Wakely

It was a dazzling production that showed the strength of the 12-men ensemble. This production by the Nottingham Playhouse and Richard Wakely; and directed by Steven Berkoff is part of the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival. The performance on the 20th of March that I saw was the last performance.
I have never seen the famous movie of the same title starring Marlon Brando. My awareness of the title "On The Waterfront" came from an encounter with the soundtrack of the broadway production of the play composed by David Amram. It is only later that I found out the illustrious pedigree of the piece. On The Waterfront was based on a series of articles in the New York Sun by Malcolm Johnson called "Crime on the Watefront". In fact, the series won the Pulitzer Prize in 1949 for Local Reporting. It was later made into the famous movie with Leonard Bernstein providing the score, his only original film score not adapted from a stage production.

This dockside theatre piece was infused with stylized acting that resonated Brecht and German expressionism. Actors moved in slow motion in between scenes with facial contortions that almost stepped into caricature. The strength of the production relied on the effectiveness of the minimalist approach it tok. The 12-strong ensemble gave a very dynamic dramatic portrayal of life on the waterfront. They morphed from Mafia-like union bosses to exploited workers with great skill and ease that made it feel like there were more than 12 actors on stage.

One of the most amusing transitions in the play took place on the rooftop. There, actors perched on the chairs cooed, fluttered and pecked like pet pigeons, then suddenly dispersed into boozers in a sleazy bar.

If I am forced to highlight any actors, Steven Berkoff epitomizes evil gangster. I knew he directed the play, but I didn't realize that he was actually in it until I tried to look for the name of the actor playing Johnny Friendly. Simon Merrells as Terry Malloy gave an energetic and forceful performance that effectively portrayed the conflicted loyalties owed to different parties. Vincenzo Nicoli as Father Barry and Robin Kingsland as Charlie Malloy gave very strong support.

This review will not be complete without mentioning the lighting design of Mike Robertson. It was one of the best design I have seen for a long time in Hong Kong. He was able to show how a good design can actually create a virtual set and steer the audiences attention to what is important on the stage. The design was cinematic in fluidity and focus.

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REVIEW: Five Days in March by Chelfitsch

I left during the interval.
The Five Days in March by Chelfitsch, a Japanese "company", was part of the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival. I went to the March 19 evening performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Studio Theatre, mainly because I have a friend in town and thought that it would be nice to show her something from the festival. And since I was going to the "On The Waterfront" the following night, I thought that this arts festival play shouldn't be too bad.

I rarely do not finish a performance regardless of how bad it was. I may not stay for the post-performance talk, but I rarely walk out or leave during the interval because no matter how bad the performance, I was actually quite curious to see how many people has left during the interval or how polite the audience was in applauding.

For some reason, the moment the first half of the "performance ended", I just felt that I shouldn't be subjected to any more of it. I would rather have my drink at the Hullet House across the road. Besides, I had already a difficult week listening to people talking non-sense and I don't want to waste anymore time listening to more non-sense!

The "piece", based on the programme notes, "has no real plot or notable incidents occuring". It was supposed to be "an attempt at a serious exploration of present expression". It claimed to "remove the deceptive theatrical element of how skillfully actors can act out a role" and "eliminate the artificiality that always exists to some degree in lines spoken by the actors when they are clearly from a drama-like script".

Right. So what is left in this piece was a group of young people narrating a series of vignettes coupled with some nervous mannerisms. While the vignettes tried to capture the language, sentiments and psychology of a segment of the young Japanese culture, I was left feeling that the medium was a total waste. The company should have just blog it.

Wait. This piece actually won the prestigious 49th Kishida Drama Award. This piece was actually a piece of drama! I may not have any issue with this piece if it was presented in a gallery (read 'free' and no need to pay HK$150) as performance art. In fact, I may actually like it! I might have thought that it was interesting and avant garde.

Interesting. Why would I have different opinions on the same piece if it was presented in a theatre versus if it was presented in a gallery? Perhaps it was the fact I paid HK$150! No, wait. I paid HK$300 for me and my friend! If it happened in a gallery, I would have usually received a beautifully printed or electronic invitation and got in for free.

Yes. The financial tansaction affects the appreciation. A few weeks ago, I went to a gallery and part of the exhibition was a piece of rat shit stuck in the middle of a 2x2ft piece of paper nicely framed with glass. Below the piece of paper was the artist's signature and the series number. There were about 9 or 12 in the series, with different size and shape of rat shit on each piece. I don't mind seeing it, but I will not buy it or even accept it as a gift from the artist. I respect the fact that the artist's needed to express him/herself and needed me to listen. I am doing him/her a favor but dare not ask me to pay!

Contemporary arts are here to test the limit and to explore new ways of expressions. Hopefully, at one point, one of these 'new tests' will prove to be groundbreaking, meaningful and acceptable enough that a demand for it will be created. So, the next time Chelfitsch will perform something, I will be more than willing to be part of the audience for free... if there is nothing else better happening in town.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

REVIEW: Dutch National Ballet

It was like having an evening of exquisite appetizers, yet no main course was served.
It was a very difficult decision, whether I should turn in my tickets and change it for a Saturday night performance or don't and miss Ashkenazy X3 (Vladimir - piano, Vovka - piano, Dimitri - clarinet). At the end, I felt that I have been out already for the last 3 nights (3/9 - Adreas Scholl, 3/10 - HKPO, 3/11 - Simone Osborne) and I should just give myself a break on Saturday night.

The Friday, 12th of March, performance of the Dutch National Ballet as part of the 38th Hong Kong Arts festival at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Grand Theatre was a collection of modern ballet pieces by no other than Hans Van Manen. This is a big deal for me. Hans Van Manen is one of the most popular choreographer that seamlessly fused clasical ballet and modern dance.

The performance started with Adagio Hammerklavier. Danced to the music of Beethoven (Adagio from Piano Sonata no. 29 in B flat, Op 106, Hammeklavier), the 3 dance couples displayed the dynamics in different relationships. What really struck me when the curtain was raised was that the dancers were beautiful and the costumes were designed to showcase that... in short, the costumes were kept minimal and simple. The choreography was a blend of creative simplicity and structured sensitivity. The lifts in this piece were some of the most difficult that I have seen on stage not because of the complexity but because they need to be sustained with utmost fluidity to achieve this level of clarity.

Sarcasmen took on stage after the interval. With Prokofiev's Cinq Sarcasmes, Op 17, dancers Anna Tsygankova and Alexander Zhembrovsky communicated great passion that both exudes sensuality and aggression. Trois Gnossiennes, with the music of Satie, was one of my favorites. The choreography was simple, sublime and sophisticated; and dancers Larissa Lezhnina and Josef Varga displayed great techniques and emotional depth. Ending the second part was Solo with music of J.S. Bach's Violin Partita, No. 1 in B minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1002. This was my least favorite, though was glad that it was in the programmes because it added variation. The choreography was comprised of fast movements and steps for 3 male dancers with each taking turn to showcase speed, balance and fun. What was very effective though was the costume. Each dancer was wearing the same loose blue t-shirt with a different color of shirt inside. Every now and then, one was able to have a glimpse of individuality amidst uniformity.

The crowning glory of the evening was Live. Using a series of Liszt piano music, the choreography explored romance, disappointment and wit. It opened with a female dancer and a cameraman. The cameraman slowly forced us to see things from his point of view as shown on a giant overhead screen. When the dancer danced off stage and into the foyer to unite with a male dancer, the audience was left watching the action on screen. This piece of choreography has such a profound effect on different levels. It was very "up close and personal" that almost stepped into voyeurism. This ended the night.

But where is the big number with the whole company (or at least more than 6 dancers) on stage? I came to see the Dutch National Ballet and for some reason, I expected to see "the company". It didn't mean that I was not happy with the performances, I was just hungry for more and somehow feel cheated.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

REVIEW: Simone Osborne Lieder Recital

Simone gave a performance that is full of promise; a promise that I hope to see fulfilled in the near future.
Part of the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival, this recital on the 11th of March at the Hong Kong City Hall Drama Theatre attracted a capacity audience.

The programme was designed into three parts: Liszt, Schumann and Strauss with Andrea Grant at the piano. Simone's interpretation was very consistent; maybe too consistent. She possesses a beautiful big, dark and rich voice with distinctively deep and wide vibrato. This, matched with her very enthusiastic personality made me felt like she was singing in a Verdi or Puccini opera in an opera house rather than lieder in a small theatre.

She showed great understanding of the text through very expressive facial contortions and hands declarations but little in vocal coloring. Rather than feeling that she was telling me something in confident, I felt that the audience was assembled for a press conference! The thought that I was in a plaza looking up at Evita giving a speech on the balcony didn't escape me.

The recital did improve as her voice warmed up, as the programme moved from Liszt to Strauss; and as my ears got accustomed to the tone, volume, vibrato and acting. By the time Simone was singing Strauss, I was sincerely enjoying the recital.

Simone was very generous to give four encores of which Jeanine Tesori's "The Girl in 14 G" was the first. I first heard this song from broadway star Kristin Chenoweth. It is a funny song and it showed off Simone in her best light! Her effervescent personality, wonderful comedic timing and varied vocal production was an absolute pleasure! Another encore piece was "O mio babbino caro", an aria from the opera Gianni Schicchi by Puccini. Again, I enjoyed her performance and decided that it would be really great to see her in a staged opera... perhaps as Rossini's Rosina or Puccini's Musetta.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

REVIEW: Unfinished Symphony with the Hong Kong Philhamonic Orchestra

My ticket cost me HK$45.00 (after discounts as a season subscriber)! With that price, I can forgive the HKPO. This all-Schubert concert on the 10th of March at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall packed a good crowd considering that it is a Wednesday night.

The title of the concert refers to Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor, which has only two movements. The title seems to imply that it was "unfinished", while I feel that Schubert has actually "abondoned" it.

For me, the highlight of this all-Schubert concert was the String Quintet in C. I am fairly familiar with this music because this is the music that a good friend of mine insisted should be played in his funeral. Being a good friend, I made sure that I familiarized myself with all the different recordings while waiting for his death! The concert opened with this piece, which I was kind of confident that I will enjoy it as I heard them played the first movement last Friday in a benefit concert for Haiti.

Boy, was I wrong. It could be the venue or where I was seated, but the effect was very different. The String Quintet in C was a roller coaster ride. The first movement seems to be light and not tense enough. While it may not be a less valid proposition, I was not sure that I like it. The second movement was longdrawn and not rhythmically poised. The group was not able to sustain the heavy drama that it made me to expect. It is in the third movement that the group was able to confront the intensity and mixture of emotions that run through the music with their clear and crisp phrasing. The last movement was not held together well with insufficient build-up to communicate the rage and rapture. It was a very interesting experience, still.

The second half of the concert was better played but to be very honest, the music didn't interest me as much. The "adondoned" symphony was an interesting piece of classical music that felt more like in transition into romantic. The final piece was the Marche Militaire. Again, was played better but the music, as much as it is well-known didn't do much for me.

So, which one wins? A piece of music I love, but played unevenly? Or pieces of music that do not interest me as much, but played well? Give me the String Quintet in C anytime. At least it will make me think and will make a better source of arguments and discussions. Having said that, the true winner was me! For HK$45.00, it is the best deal in town hands down!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

REVIEW: Andreas Scholl and Edin Karamazov in A MUSICALL BANQUET

Part of the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival, this recital by countertenor Andreas Scholl and lutist Edin Karamazov on March 9 at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall was eagerly anticipated by me. The name Andreas Scholl first came to my attention when I decided that he was the best among The Three Countertenors. Yes, this is the title of the CD produced at the heels of the very profitable The Three Tenors. The CD was more like a funny but serious showcase of the countertenor voice. Since then, I have gathered a good number of his recordings but have never seen him perform live.
The recital was heavily based on his CD, A MUSICALL BANQUET. The repertoire had a good but curious mix of English, French, Spanish and Italian airs. John Dowland was featured heavily to my delight. In fact, I was dismayed that one of my favorite Dowland song Come Again was not in the programme and was humming it during the intermission. But to my surprise, Andreas sang it in the second half, bringing a lot of people in the audience into hurried search in their programme book.

Andreas Scholl didn't disappoint me at all. His voice had a youthful timbre and his singing was effortless. He also brought tremendous eloquence and empathy for the texts. Erin Karamazov played sublimely, pacing cohesively to Scholl's phrasing.

From the third row, Scholl's voice was clear and pure; while throat-clearing was a bit too often and obvious for me, who kept clearing my own throat to stifle my cough. All in all, the evening was gentle and soothing.

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I saw the final performance of the ANIMAL FARM on March 7, 8pm at the Shouson Theatre in the Hong Kong Arts Centre. This production of a play based on George Orwell’s dystopian allegorical novella is part of the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival.
This is not the first time I have seen a play based on Animal Farm, but this could be the most memorable one. The adaptation by Ian Wooldridge was clear and concise. It went directly to the very essence of the story of perfect ideals being interpreted and executed by imperfect humans (or animals). This production of Wild Rice from Singapore combined physical theatre, stylized stage design and live music into a very relevant and funny performance.

The whole play was performed by seven actors who switched characters every now and then. The play started with the actors transforming from humans to animals by foregoing clothing and mobile phones. Old Major, the old boar in Manor Farm, then talked about how humans are like parasites and hope one day, the animals will revolt and free themselves. The animal did revolt eventually and the Seven Commandments of Animalism was established and written on the wall of a barn. The most important is the seventh, "All animals are equal."

Not long after, when Mr. Jones tried to retake the farm, the “Battle of the Cowshed” took place. This scene provided some of the funniest moments in the play. My favorite was how the geese attacked Mr. Jones by shitting on him and when Mr. Jones shot one of them, Swan Lake music played and one of the geese did a mock ballet. Yes, it is these types of routines that were most effective, they were down-to-earth and easily shared.

Not long after, the pigs elevated themselves to become the leaders and then on, corruption and purging were not far. Soon, the pigs started to behave more and more like human and justified it by slowly changing the commandments to suit their needs. The play ended by showing the pigs cooperating with humans against the “lower class”.

All the actors played their parts very well, contributing to the success of the production. Above all, the whole team showed what a company of actors should be ideally like, they were versatile and played on each others strength. Singapore should be proud even with their Singlish accent.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

REVIEW: AIDA at The MET Opera HD Live

I was more interested in the technology and the venue, rather than the opera itself. When I found out about the broadcasts in US cinemas, I wrote a letter to the MET begging them to bring it to Hong Kong and I got my wish.

I went to the 12nn screening on 7th of March at the Wellcome Theatre at Bethanie Campus of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. The venue was very pleasant with ample foyer for people to rest and eat. As for the theatre, I was kind of expecting a bigger screen, but was grateful that it was not because it kept the fast panning of the cameras to a limited range. Any bigger screen would have induced motion sickness! The sound was a bit disappointing, as it sounded a wee dampened.

The screening started with Renee Fleming introducing the opera and the back stage insights of the MET. Now this is for me the best thing about these screenings. In between acts, Renee got to interviews the singers of the opera, talked about the set change, chatted with the extras and also interviewed singers of the upcoming opera. The interviews were very entertaining especially the part when Renee was interviewing Dolora Zajick (Amneris). Dolora's response to Renee's questions were so peculiar that I was not so sure whether Dolora was either clueless or was being sarcastic. In any case, the audience loved it and found the whole sequence hilarious!

I suppose I do need to talk about the opera itself, right? Overall, it was of MET standard. The production was grand and the orchestra played sympathetically. All the performers were world-class. Violeta Urmana played Aida, she sang and look beautifully. The last time I saw her was in the role of Princess Eboli in Don Carlos in Munich. Her rich mezzo voice truly made an impression. For this soprano role, the rich mezzo was still there, but as the voice climbed up the scale, it bloomed into a dramatic voice if not as round as I want it to be. Playing Radames was Johan Botha who sang with great fluid voice but lack the brightness in tone. To demand acting from him would be too much. Dolora Zajick was cruising fine until the last act when she unleashed a thrilling performance of great drama. Her voice was big yet steady that worked effectively in communicating great anguish.
All in all, I am happy that MET Opera HD Live has arrived in Hong Kong and I can't wait to see Les Contes d'Hoffmann. For more information check out:

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REVIEW: Rebuilding Haiti by Osage Art Foundation

First of all, I have to remember that I went to Rebuilding Haiti on March 6 for a good cause. Now, as for the program, it started (I believe) with EXTREME LAND, composition of Ng King-Pan, which I really didn't notice since I thought that the musicians were still having a technical rehearsal. The music itself though, did sound like as if the musicians were testing and tuning their instruments! Without proper introduction, it was fairly easy to miss it.

The rest of the music were a lot better. The Arvo Part and Schubert pieces were for me the highlights. However, the solo frame drum and overtone singing by John Lee were of utmost source of curiosity. Mr. Lee produced unearthly earthly sounds by using regular objects as percussion instruments and manipulating the sound through amplification dynamics.

I left not long after the Peter Scherr and Friends jazz trio played some of their own composition. There were still a lot of things to follow, but I was not interested. Instead, I went one floor below to see the exhibition in Osage entitled BIOGRAPHY.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

PREVIEW: Rebuilding Haiti by Osage Art Foundation

Enough has been said on the predicament of Haiti. Now, it is time to do something about it.
I am invited to attend this benefit concert on March 6, 7pm to 12am at Sigma Space, Kwun Tong. Initial reaction was that the venue is not exactly convenient and most probably it will be some loud music by some "indie" bands in Hong Kong. Well, surprisingly, the programmes is quite appealing, at least to me.

It will start off with selections from Schubert's String Quintet in C, D. 956 to be performed by members of the HK Philharmonic Orchestra, followed by some jazz music by Peter Scherr and Friends, solo frame drum and overtone singing (whatever that means) by John Lee, Arvo Part's Speigel im Spiegel (will be looking forward to this one as Part is one of my favorite contemporary composer) to be performed by William Lane and Sheryl Lee and Caleb Burhans: In Time of Desperation to be performed by Sheryl Lee. The bad news is that from 10pm onward, new and electronic music will be "DJed"! Anyway, by that time, I would need my beauty sleep.

Seriously, it is HK$500 only for the entire evening which include drink and food. It will be a great way to spend the Saturday evening. The best part of it is that all proceeds will go to UNICEF. For more information, check out their website:

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