Monday, May 31, 2010

REVIEW: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Hi! Something good happened. Every now and then, I will be contributing to Time-Out Hong Kong online edition. This review of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra will be my first one. Hope you like it and thank you for visiting my blog.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall Saturday May 29

They say he plays like Gershwin and I say if Gershwin plays like Kevin Cole, Gershwin must have been really good!

In an all-Gershwin programme, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra performed to a well-attended concert. Conductor David Alan Miller, a champion of American music, led the orchestra with pizzazz and precision; and the orchestra responded to the genre with brio.

The evening started with Oh Kay!: Overture, and ended with An American in Paris. It also included songs like Summertime and My Man's Gone Now from the opera Porgy and Bess; and Gershwin standards like The Man I Love, They Can't Take That Away from Me, Love is Here to Stay, Embraceable You and ‘S Wonderful, all performed with American soprano Indra Thomas. Indra started off a bit shaky, but slowly blossomed into a very charming performer who beautifully captured the jazz idiom that usually escapes most classically trained singers. While her middle and low registers seemed to thrive in Gershwin songs, her high register was a bit tattered.

The highlight of the evening was Kevin Cole in Rhapsody in Blue, I Got Rhythm Variation and his encore piece of a medley of Gershwin tunes. His humble demeanor on stage belies his stunning virtuosity. Kevin’s gift went beyond technique and tone and onto a performance of great affinity and passion for Gershwin music. It is not everyday that I see the audience smiling in an HKPO concert… in awe, a lot of times, but smiling? Now that is very special.

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REVIEW: Simon Boccanegra in The Metropolitan Opera HD Live

It was a very interesting piece of “experimental” theatre.

photo: coutesy of The Metropolitan Opera

Last night’s (May 30) screening of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at the Bethanie’s Wellcome Theatre was primarily pegged on the fact that Placido Domingo was doing his first important baritone role in The Metropolitan Opera. I saw Placido in the baritone role of Vidal Hernando (Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda) back in 2006 at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain; and the performance was very fine (though he was upstaged by the King Juan Carlos I of Spain). However, in this showing at the MET, let us face it, if somebody auditioned for the role with Placido’s voice, I don’t think MET would have put him on stage. BUT we are talking about Placido here; thus indulgence was the game.

When the opera started and a performer stepped onto the stage and sang, I immediately thought, “Boy, they should do a better casting job for these secondary roles!” Then, I realized I was looking at Placido (with very heavy make-up) doing THE role and my heart sank. While Placido may have fared better as the older Simon Boccanegra, the voice was threadbare on the edges and the tenor quality of his voice just didn’t blend very well with the other voices.

Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, as Maria/Amelia, was splendid with a clear and shimmering voice. Tenor Marcello Giordani, was generally good and generally annoying… can’t put my finger on it… I am not so sure whether it was his careless phrasing or his contrived facial expressions or both. Most importantly though, Simon Boccanegra was just not very interesting. The opera, when compared with other Verdi operas, just doesn’t have the same melodic charm and clarity of dramatic flow... not even Jame Levine with his magic wand was able to change it.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

REVIEW: Asphalte by Pierre Rigal Compagnie derniere minute

It was like Marcel Marceau took up hip hop.

Asphalte, a Le French May event, was 15 minutes late... hmmm... to a half-full Sheung Wan Civic Centre Theatre on May 28. The one hour, no intermission performance managed to amazed me with great concepts, but at the same bored me with lingering repetitions.

Choreographed by Pierre Rigal with 5 hip-hop dancers, Asphalte presented a series of mime-like episodes portraying situations of humor, violence, tenderness and death. Gimmicks like the use of little light cubes, light goggles and a giant wall of light were effective for a short while but quickly became tacky.

The dancers were effective and performed with great skill and passion. The show received its most applause in the final episode when the giant wall of light was used as a strobe light. Between the intervals of light and blackout, dancers were shown floating on air by performing a series of gravity-defying jumps in rhythm with the strobe. It was absolutely stunning until they milked the effect to its death. In fact, at the time of this writing, my eyes were still hurting.


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Thursday, May 27, 2010

REVIEW: BC Unplugged featuring Savannah Betts

For a bottle of beer, I was able to witness something rather special.

I was referring to the BC Unplugged at The Wanch (G/f, 54 Jaffe Road, Wan Chai) featuring Savannah Betts. The night was very different from my evenings spent in concert halls. Last night at The Wanch, the BC Unplugged were showcasing young artists rendering their own songs. One artist that stood out was Savannah Betts, a German-South African solo artist, born and raised in Hong Kong.

Equipped with a guitar, Savannah delivered songs that were eloquent and sincere, unpretentious and simple. While her nervousness may have hindered her singing a bit, it was pretty much part of her charm. In some ways, all the little mistakes somehow just made the story in her songs gained a different level of clarity and truth.

Some of my personal favorites in the 30minute-set was her little anthem called "Tennessee" that talked about boys and their stupidity when it came to relationships; and "Home", a song about her life in Hong Kong. On the other hand, "One, Two, Three" became the obvious crowd's favorite as they demand it to be sung again as an encore.

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Last night was the preview and “vernissage” of the ARTHK10. I didn’t go to the preview which was from at 4 to 6pm, as I was still in the office slaving away. So, I arrived at around 6:30pm ready to use my “VIP” card to enter the vernissage; but what I found out was that my “VIP” was actually not very “VIP” as there were tons of people. Well, the word ‘vernissage” has definitely come a long way.

The word “vernissage” means “varnishing” in French. These days, the term refers to the formal opening of an art exhibition to the public, while if it is for invited guest only, then it is called “private viewing”. But what does “varnishing” has anything to do with a formal opening of an art exhibition? Apparently, in the past, there is a custom of patrons and the elite to visit the academies during the day (a day prior to the formal opening) when the artists would give a final touch to their pieces by varnishing them. These days… well… it means “the selling” starts!

ARTHK10 is definitely bigger than last year. In fact, I was only able to visit half of the exhibition. Seemingly, a lot of selling and buying has already been done. Like last year, there was a good mix of established and "up & coming" artists.

My visit last night was for dual purposes, one is to attend the exhibition and two is to pick up a painting I have bought beforehand. What really surprised me was the amount of time I spent in one exhibitor’s booth to buy 2 pieces of Liu Jian Hua’s work. The business in this booth was so brisk that they hardly had anytime for me. At the end, I was able to bring home one piece last night and would need to get the other one maybe on Saturday (they have ship the other piece from Beijing).

I hope to be back there on Saturday to see the other half of the exhibition.

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Monday, May 24, 2010


If there is one visual art event that anybody who have any slight interest in art should go to in Hong Kong, it has to be the ARTHK10.

I have attended the inaugural exhibition in 2008 and was fairly impressed. However, the 2009 exhibition was way beyond my expectation. While there were a significant amount of exhibitors showing works from the same artists again, they were actually a welcome sight for me as it was almost like seeing an old friend... it sounds a bit cheesy I know, but that is the reality as they were not "popular" enough to appear in auctions very often, yet they are not inexpensive enough for me to acquire them.

Two artists come to my mind that I would love to see again in ARTHK10; they are: Konstantin Bessmertny (represented by Amelia Johnson Contemporary) and Hyon Gyon (represented by magical, ARTROOM).

Konstantin Bessmertny, "In Rooms I. Fisrt of All: no Sports", Oil on Canvas; 40 x 60 cms, courtesy of Amelia Johnson Contemporary

Hyon Gyon,“Ki Do Ai Raku”, acrylic on canvas, 2270×1820 mm, courtesy of magical, ARTROOM

There's also a few Hong Kong's very own making their first appearance in the ARTHK. One that I can remember is Chi-Fai Cheng (represented by Grotto Fine Art).

Chi-Fai Cheng, "Mong Kok Sunlight", oil on canvas, 62x62cm, courtesy of Grotto Fine Art

Of course there will be a lot of works from famous and familiar artists from within the region and all over the world; but they are what I call "for your eyes only"... well, at least, for my eyes only. It will be very nice to see them, but what I really looking forward to are the up and coming artists.

Learn more about ARTHK10:

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SATOSHI on Collecting Artworks

Yesterday, I came to a crossroad. I brought back a rolled-up painting from my recent travel and realized that I do not have a space for it.

Considering that a lot of my paintings were on top of each other, this particular painting presented a different problem as it measures 6 x 4 feet and it is a mixed media painting with applique. My usual solution to a large painting was to keep it rolled up, but because of the applique on this painting, I do have to stretch it as soon as possible to avoid the applique warping. How I actually solve this problem is another issue, but what really strike me was, "how do I get to this point?"

I would consider myself a very unlikely art collector since I didn't come from a family of art collectors and I don't consider myself rich. After all, I am just a mere middle manager of a company. As I ask myself this question, I bumped into these videos. It is the story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel. He is a postal clerk and she is a librarian, they had limited means yet was able to accumulate a phenomenal collection of new arts (minimal and conceptual art). It was so phenomenal, that a movie was made about them.
This one shows the Vogels talking about the movie:

And this shows what other people think about the Vogels.

So... going back to my question, "how do I get to this point?" This point where I need to get an apartment to store my collection or this point where I started lending out artworks to close friends to save on storage space. Well, I don't know how, all I know is that though I may not be rich, I am enriched by the beauty of these artworks; and I am enriched by the knowledge that I am supporting and ecouraging artists in my own little way.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

SATOSHI on Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra 2010-2011 season

When I thought that it can’t get any better, it didn’t!

I have sent in my subscription form today for the 2010-2011 season of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra after a long debate. A very attentive staff from HKPO called me on Tuesday to ask me about my ticket refund when I was on my way home from a business trip. She did also ask me whether I have already received the 2010-2011 season programme guide. While I explained that I have just got back from a business trip, I was very excited and can’t wait to have a look at the programme. Luckily, it was there when I got home. The first thing I checked was the opera. What will be the opera in the coming season? I flipped through the programme twice literally and went through the calendar once. There is no opera in the coming season!

In early March, it was announced that Maestro de Waart is stepping down at the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season. On Tuesday, then came this news that there is no “opera in concert”. On Wednesday morning, came the story in the South China Morning Post that the reason behind the missing opera was that the (orchestral) board found it “too risky… on financial grounds”. On Wednesday evening, I attended the Beethoven’s Symphony 9 concert and was amazed at the quality of the Shanghai Opera House Chorus (in comparison, the Opera Hong Kong Chorus sounded like high school choir). All this, on top of the fact that I find the 2011-2012 season programme inferior to the current season, make me worry on the future of Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hong Kong SAR! OH, one more things! While Shanghai is having their first fully-staged Wagner’s Ring Cycle in September, here we are in Hong Kong is finding an “opera in concert” risky!

Am I just annoyed that Shanghai has already overtaken Hong Kong in this field or am I just being unreasonable in thinking that the HKPO board is not doing their job? Yes, I do believe that it is the board’s job to ensure the growth of the orchestra not by cutting cost, but by finding new ways to increase it revenue so that the orchestra can serve the aspiration of the city.

I subscribed to 8 out of the 9 series in the 2009-2010 season. While I do miss a few concerts here and there, I find the subscription method quite agreeable to my busy lifestyle. There are a lot of benefits in subscribing: I get to sit with my friends (since I subscribe for them), I get to sit on my regular seat and I get substantial discounts! In the 2010-2011 season, the HKPO is offering 8 series. My first reaction, after hearing all these irritating news and seeing the new line-up was to trim down my subscription down to 5 series. However, I do love the orchestra and want to support it. In such cases, one is either part of the problem or part of the solution… I ended up subscribing to 7 series. On the other hand, if this “decline” will become the trend, I might as well enjoy it while it lasts…

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REVIEW: De Waart’s Beethoven 9 with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

The juxtaposition of Beethoven’s first and last symphony made an interesting evening.

De Waart’s Beethoven 9 performed to a packed house tonight (19th of May) at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. It was the last installment of the Beethoven trilogy. The concert started of Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21 followed by Symphony No.9 in D minor Choral, Op. 125.

The Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21 was played ceremoniously with nothing much new to offer. While the piece represents Beethoven at the height of his Classical power and was considered a “masterpiece” and its “originality” was praised, I can’t help but feel that what came after his “early” period are what really matter to me personally. This is especially true to his “late” period where I find his works intellectually deeper and personal expressions are more intense. The Symphony No. 9 in D minor Choral, Op. 125 is just that.

Overall, the 9th was performed splendidly. Though there were a few moments that I felt the whole ensemble were barking at each other, it was rather difficult not to be carried away by the outbursts of happiness innate to the score. Maestro Edo de Waart kept the music tight, dynamic and flowing. Soloist Eike Wilm Schulte delivered a certain lyric quality to his bass voice that resonated joy. Simon O’Neill, Susan Bullock and Ning Liang all gave a fine performance, but the star of the 9th was the Shanghai Opera House Choir. Even though the choir started off a bit wobbly, they quickly warmed up to superb form delivering both power and subtlety when needed.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SATOSHI: Beethoven Interrupted

Satoshi's battle with concert schedule continues. Life is good. This weekend is the birthday of Satoshi's mother and also a long weekend (Friday the 21st of May is the Buddha's Birthday) in Hong Kong. Fabulous! To make the most of the long weekend though, it means that Satoshi should leave Hong Kong on Thursday night to enjoy the long weekend with his family back in his home country. One small problem, Satoshi's ticket for the last installment of Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's Beethoven Trilogy is on Thursday.

No problem, Satoshi thought. He tried changing his ticket to Wednesday night instead, but it was sold out according to the HKPO office when they checked with Urbtix. Satoshi checked the Urbtix again and again and finally found a ticket. So instead of changing his ticket and going through the hassle coordinating with the HKPO office, he simply bought a new (more expensive) ticket and returned his Thursday night ticket for a 50% refund. This is where the story should have ended... but of course not.

Satoshi had just been to China yesterday and found out that he needs to go back to China AGAIN today! (Yes, Satoshi does work, just in case you are thinking that he just seat around waiting for the next show!) There goes his Beethoven concert... and that means that he will come back to Hong Kong on Thursday afternoon, rush back home, pack and rush to the airport. Oh well, that is life... win some, lose some...

Happy Birthday MAMA!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

REVIEW: CARMEN at the MET Opera HD Live

Yes, even though I didn’t go to the MET Opera HD Live screening of Bizet’s Carmen (check out my PREVIEW: CARMEN at the MET Opera HD Live is SOLD OUT! and SATOSHI: A Casualty of the Deadly Clashes in Bangkok), I still have a review… courtesy of Peter K., one of my minions of readers (ahem).

Peter went to the Sunday matinee (16th of May) screening of Carmen and it was his first time to attend a MET Opera HD Live screening. The following are excerpts from his letter to me (with a bit of editing from me to make the transition from a personal letter to a “review”):

“At first I was a little taken by the fact that the HD broadcast doesn’t look very HD to me… I think the sound system was pretty good as the singing sounded natural. I have watched the Tosca movie with Alagna and his ex-wife sometime ago in a regular cinema and I hated the sound. The bass of a regular movie theatre is just too overwhelming for opera and concert screening. However, the Wellcome Theatre seemed to have the balance right.”

“All the leads sang extremely well, especially Elina Granaca (as Carmen)! Such a deep dramatic voice, so beautiful and so “legato” at all times. On top of that, she was such a great actress and a stunning flamenco dancer too! There was a very fast dance number where she sang and danced at the same time. She was amazing! You would have thought only pop singers would do that sort of stuff but she pulled it off very impressively!”

“Roberto Alagna (as Don Jose) was also very good. His acting was also very natural and he responded to Garanca’s hot-blooded Carmen very well. I am not normally crazy about Barbara Fritolli (as Micaela) but there she was in a very smooth and blooming voice.”

“Escamillo was supposed to be sung by Mariusz Kwiecien, but our broadcast host, Renee Fleming, announced that he was sick and he was replaced by Teddy Tahu Rhodes. The first thing I noticed about this stand-in baritone was his unusually tall, lean and handsome look. It was not hard to understand why Carmen went for him at the end!”

“I have to give a lot of credits to the choreographer (Christopher Wheeldon), his dances all looked very authentic. The director (Richard Eyre) also put a lot of efforts in adding details and moves to the singers/actors in a way that I have never seen in other operas. Normally, in opera (even for those which were filmed live for later release in DVD and Blu rays), the opera singers were pretty much trained to make exaggerated gestures because in a real theatre it is impossible for the audience to notice those subtle body languages such as an eyewink or any facial expressions. But here, on top of those passionate singings, you can actually see and feel the chemistry between the singers and it was very real and touching. The TV director (Brian Large) who filmed the whole thing also made the opera quite cinematic by capturing it in angles that are quite unusual.”

“The best scene has to be the last, the anger portrayed by Alagna was truly scary… especially during the scene when he stepped on Garanca's long skirt and caused her to fall on the ground, and then pulled out his knife and stabbed it on the floor, only a few inches away from Garanca's face, while asking her one last time whether or not she still love him… and in the final scene when he had realized that he had killed Carmen, he frantically searched for the ring that she threw away and put it back on her finger, before the guards found him, it truly touched me to the core.”

“Well, few years back I was very very impressed with the new Carmen blu ray disc with Jonas Kauffman and Antonacci, and I thought nothing can top that in terms of their chemistry; but this new Met Carmen is now my definitive version!”


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Sunday, May 16, 2010

REVEIW: Beethoven's Fidelio with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

A very beautifully crafted concert version with a very balanced cast.

Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s second installment to its Beethoven trilogy, Fidelio: Opera in Concert, performed to a full house

last night (15th of May) at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. The concert recruited a star-studded cast, while Maestro Edo de Waart led the orchestra.

Before the concert started, two performers stepped onto the stage and took their positions. The two performers were later revealed to be David Pountney as the narrator and Lisa Larsson as Marzelline. The narrator took up the character of a person of law going through some old documents in relation to the case of Leonore and Florestan. I have to say that I somehow like this approach. In absence of a full staging and dialogues, the narrator served as a radio broadcast-like host for the evening, mitigating whatever missing to make the story comprehensible without too much intrusion.

All the characters were impeccably cast. Susan Bullock, as Leonore/Fidelio, turned out a fine performance; though did not impress me as much as when I saw her in Elektra and Salome. Simon O’Neill, on the other hand as Florestan, was even better than I remembered him as Sigmund. He gave a moving portrayal with his penetrating lyrical voice.

Kristinn Sigmudsson was a booming and looming Rocco. Too bad that this was not a staged version as I suspect that Kristinn would have made an endearing father-jailer. Lisa Larsson, as Marzelline – daughter to Rocco, was a delight with her bright and engaging lyric soprano voice and her attractive stage presence. Jon-Michael Ball was a brooding lovesick Jaquino. Eike Wilm Schulte was a menacing Don Pizarro, while Andrew Foster-Williams was a dignified Don Fernando.

The surprise of the evening was the Shanghai Opera House Choir. They produced some really gorgeous sounds that showcased beautiful harmony. In fact, they made Opera Hong Kong Chorus sounded like a high school choir! The chorus also provided two excellent prisoners in Zheng Yao and Xu Qi, who sang with wonderful conviction.

The orchestra sounded fine. Maestro Edo de Waart kept the glorious music flowing.


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Saturday, May 15, 2010

REVIEW: Snow White (Blanche-Neige) by Ballet Preljocaj

It was a dark Snow White.

The opening night of the Le French May's Snow White (Blanche-Neige) by Ballet Preljocaj on the 14th of May at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre was a full house event. This production of Snow White was premiered in September 2008 at the Biennale de la Danse de Lyon in France and received a Crystal Globe for the Best Dance Show of the Year in 2009. This modern dance version was created by Angelin Preljocaj and uses the music of Gustav Mahler primarily. The costumes were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier (of the Madonna's twin-coned corset fame), and all promotional communications ensured that this fact was made known.

The show was performed without an interval. It was enjoyable enough except for the French-speaking people behind me. They decided that they would discuss the show as if they were watching it on the television at home. One of them even decided to remove her shoes and rest her feet on the back of the empty seat beside me. Her wriggling toes in my peripheral vision and the intermittent seat jerking due to her shifting ass were just inappropriate and very annoying.

When interpreting a story through modern dance, I sometimes find that some choreographers tend to inject more miming than dance. I am glad to see that Angelin is not that kind of choreographer. While some of the ensemble dances were very unmemorable and standard, Angelin excelled in the solos and pas de deuxs. I was particularly impressed in the prince's inconsolable dance with the lifeless body of Snow White; and in the sadistic and menacing dance of the wicked stepmother and Snow White as the stepmother throws Snow White around all the while with the apple still in Snow White's mouth.

There were some cheesy visual effects such as the dwarves' acrobatic act on the wall and the wicked stepmother's Marcel Marceu-like mirror mime. However, I do see that they can be quite entertaining for younger or inexperienced audiences; thus creating a very good commercially viable show. The show's strength relies on the familiar story and its new treatment.

The show was not the sweet and cute type. Instead, it was rough and raw. The story was brought back to its folk origin as collected and recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Costumes were more ethnic glamour rather than the traditional flouncy outfits associated with fairytales. Quite interestingly, this happily-ever-after conclusion also meant that the wicked stepmother got punished by forcing her into a pair of red-hot iron shoes while she danced until she fell down dead. Mr. Disney would not allow that.


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SATOSHI: A Casualty of the Deadly Clashes in Bangkok

Amidst the deadly clash between the Thai government and the red-shirt protesters in Bangkok, Satoshi becomes the latest victim in a peculiar way.

It all started when Satoshi published his PREVIEW on the upcoming MET Opera HD Live's screening of Carmen. While he celebrated the screening being a sold-out success, he lamented that he was not able to get a ticket. Being such an influential blogger and having a huge legion of followers (ahem..), it didn't take long before a reader offered to sell Satoshi a ticket for the Sunday matinee screening. The reader, an opera lover, resides in Bangkok and was coming to Hong Kong for an opera weekend with a friend to see Fidelio and Carmen; however, the friend had a seminar that he needed to attend and therefore I became the beneficiary of his misfortune.

Satoshi, with a new found ticket, gave up his ticket for the Ballet Preljocaj's Snow White (Sunday Matinee) while tried to get another ticket of the same production for the Friday opening night and reschedule his business trip. Unfortunately, the opening night was sold out... except for the wheelchair seat plus a minder seat. Desperate times called for desperate tactics. Satoshi did something unmentionable (in this blog) and was able to go to the opening night of the ballet.

Well, the clashes in Bangkok got worst and the seminar (that the 'friend' was supposed to attend) got cancelled! That means now, the reader and the friend will get their opera weekend. While the reader and the friend became the beneficiary of Thailand's misfortune, I became the victim of their fortune and the Thailand's misfortune indirectly... sigh... at least I will have more time to write about Fidelio on Saturday night...

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

REVIEW: Lang Toi (My Village) – Dancing with Bamboos

It lulled me to sleep.

Lang Toi (My Village), was the name of the show I saw a few hours ago (12th of May) at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts Lyric Theatre. It was a show created by Nhat Ly, Lan Nguyen and Le Tuan Anh for the Quai Branly Museum in Paris in 2009; and presented as part of Le French May.

It was contemporary circus and this meant that there was no animal involved and traditional circus acts was combined with character-driven concept. Compared with the Ringling Brothers-type of circus, contemporary circus tends to put more emphasis on the overall impact of the concept and character development; and it uses lighting and costume designs to communicate a thematic or descriptive subject matter.

One of the more famous contemporary circuses is the Cirque du Soleil. Well, Lang Toi is not Cirque du Soleil. Think of it this way, if Cirque du Soleil is to big budget Hollywood film, Lang Toi is to not-so-big budget French cinema. This means, just like French cinema, it took its own time to develop the story and it defied conclusive endings.

The show was a series of circus acts (contortions, juggling, balancing, suspension and others) tied together with the use of bamboo as the common element. Bamboos were used as platforms, props and even musical instruments. While I personally find the move from one act to another a bit too slow, others may find it “atmospheric”. Moments like the men building large bamboo structures (later on became the “tightrope” act), while the women sat around singing was too long a rest time for me and I actually nodded off. Meanwhile, there was one act that I found quite interesting and that was the juggling and beating of the “wooden fish” (a type of percussion) at same time.

I do like French cinema when I am in the right mood. A few hours ago, I was in the mood for a good old Hollywood blockbuster.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

PREVIEW: Bach's Mass in B Minor by the Hong Kong Bach Choir and Orchestra

It is too bad that I will not be able to go to this performance as it clashes with my going to the MET Opera HD Live's screening of Simon Boccanegra. However, I would highly recommend this performance of the Bach's Mass in B Minor by the Hong Kong Bach Choir and Orchestra to celebrate their 40th anniversary. It will be on the 30th of May at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, 8pm.

The concert will feature an impressive line-up of world-class soloists including soprano Sylvia Schwartz, mezzo-soprano Phyllis Pancella, tenor Christoph Genz and baritone Stephan Loges. The Mass in B Minor is generally regarded as one of the ultimate feats of classical music. Alberto Basso summarizes the work as follows: "The Mass in B minor is the consecration of a whole life: started in 1733 for 'diplomatic' reasons, it was finished in the very last years of Bach's life, when he had already gone blind. This monumental work is a synthesis of every stylistic and technical contribution the Cantor of Leipzig made to music. But it is also the most astounding spiritual encounter between the worlds of Catholic glorification and the Lutheran cult of the cross."

For more information, check-out the HKBC’s website:

Bach’s Mass in B Minor
The Hong Kong Bach Choir and Orchestra
Date: 30th May, 2010 (Sunday)
Time: 8pm
Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Tickets: HK$380, $280, $220, HK$160
Tickets will be available from all URBTIX outlets beginning 7 April 2010.
Online Booking:
Ticket Reservation: 27349009
Credit Card Booking: 21115999

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Monday, May 10, 2010

PREVIEW: Beethoven's Fidelio with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Fidelio, the second installment to the HKPO’s Beethoven trilogy, is going to be performed on the 15th and 17th of May at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, 8pm.

Singing the role of Leonore is Susan Bullock, who some of us may remember her remarkable performance of the role Salome and Elektra with the HKPO a couple of years ago. She alone is enough reason for any opera lover to buy a ticket to this event. However, joining her is Simon O’Neill singing the role of Florestan and I suspect that he will be great in this role. I have seen him as Siegmund in the 2005 Royal Opera House production of Wagner’s Die Walküre in London and his performance was stellar with his gorgeous ringing high notes. With Susan and Simon together, not having a ticket to this concert is just not natural! Haha!

Jon-Michael Ball, Lisa Larsson, Kristinn Sigmudsson (check-out my review of his performance in Der Rosenkavalier - and Eike Wilm Schulte complete the cast with Maestro Edo de Waart conducting.

Check out the HKPO website:

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

REVIEW: Massenet’s Manon by the Opera Hong Kong

The cast was good but the audience was bad.

On the second and last performance (8th of May) of Massenet's Manon at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, the house was packed but the audience behaved horribly. It must be the worst in my entire opera-going life here and abroad (well, that is excluding mainland China)!

During act I, there was somebody shouting sporadically for almost a whole minute! The rest of the evening, there was a lot of "shushing", which ironically is louder than the reasons for the "shushing". Considering that it was a Saturday night, I do not understand why almost a fourth of the audience was late. During the interval, I tried to assess the audience demographics and here's my hypothesis: There must be a significant number of tickets that were given away to pack the Grand Theatre like that (considering that the HKPO was also packed in the Concert Hall). Unfortunately, this audience must have thought that they were attending a Canto-pop concert which is usually half an hour late. There were a lot of kids (+/- 9 years old), in fact, I spotted a whole row of kids in the stall HK$680 section. All the murmurings (reason for shushing) must have been due to the fact that the opera, on its own, was already confusing enough and that the translations didn't help by looking like as if they had been churned out by Google Translate and was not subjected to spell check. There you go, that's my hypothesis and I am sticking to it!

Now that I have got that out of my chest, let us talk about the opera.

Manon was co-presented by Opera Hong Kong and Le French May; and this production was a result of cooperation of Opéra de Nice, Opéra Théâtre d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse, Opéra de Massy and Grand Théâtre de Reims. Manon is an opera comique by the French composer Jules Massenet. The libretto is by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost.

Manon tells about a young girl embarking on a journey that will eventually tear her apart between her passionate love for a young student and her increasing need for material riches and comfort as a mistress of a rich man. It is the quintessential example of the music and culture of the Parisian Belle Époque times.

The role of Manon was described by Beverly Sill's as the "French Isolde". She must be referring to the fact that Manon is in every act of the opera and it must be physically and emotionally draining to do the role effectively. In last night's case, we had Nathalie Manfrino as Manon. Aside from a crack in one of the high notes, Nathalie's Manon was a joy to listen to. She possessed a warm and round voice that she skillfully manipulated to bring subtlety and nuance to her singing. The shift from the innocent to the spoiled and the knowing was convincing.

Le Chevalier Des Grieux, Manon's "main" love interest, found a good fit with Florian Laconi. Florian possessed a bright and ringing lyric tenor voice that craved for empathy. His singing and acting were heartfelt, while in moments when fragility and weakness were needed, he filled the role with dark poignancy.

Marcel Vanaud as Le Comte Des Grieux, made a mark with his deep and dark baritone voice coupled with an apt portrayal of a righteous and dignified father. Christophe Mortagne (who acted peculiarly during the curtain call by presenting the orchestra and the chorus rather than just taking his bow) was fittingly peculiar in his rendition of Guillot Morfontaine. Hong Kong’s very own, Joyce Wong, Melody Sze and Carol Lin performed a cohesive trio of Pousette, Javotte and Rosette.

The use of text projected onto the translucent screen on stage was a nice touch. While the set demonstrated versatility, the St. Sulpice design was totally odd. From where I was sitting, I can’t see what was happening behind the small archway; which could have been easily solved by projecting the shadows onto the backdrop through some simple lighting adjustments. However, by not showing a dispersing congregation enthusiastic over the sermon of the new abbe (Le Chevalier) in the St. Sulpice scene, the production watered down the power of Manon’s “love” and the fall of the new abbe.

Overall, this is a most welcome performance of a rarely performed opera in Hong Kong. Bravo!

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

REVIEW: Paul Lewis Plays Beethoven with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

I went in with the concerto and came out with the symphony.

Last night’s (7th of May) performance entitled, Paul Lewis Plays Beethoven, played to a full house at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. In fact, because of my late ticket change, I had to give up my usual seat and sit in the choir stall. Luckily, I was given a seat on the stage right, thus providing me with a great view of the pianist’s hand. For this I have to thank the HKPO’s wonderful staff in trying their best to accommodate my request. Part of a Beethoven Trilogy, this first installment comprised of Leonore: Overture No. 3, Op. 72a, Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat (Emperor), Op. 73; and Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67.

The Leonore: Overture No. 3, Op. 72 opened the concert. It was played well, but it didn’t sound fresh and I am afraid that this sentiment continued onto the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat (Emperor), Op. 73. This may be due to where I was sitting or I could have ruined it for myself by listening to several Emperor recordings prior to the concert.

I tried very hard to love the performance, but I came away unmoved. My expectation was high and why not? Every one of Paul’s Beethoven Piano Sonatas CD series (four in all) was included in Gramophone magazine's "Editor's Choice". In 2008, the volume 4 of the series was awarded Gramophone's "Best Instrumental" recording and "Best Recording of the Year". That is no small feat! While I am familiar with the name Paul Lewis, my first encounter of his performance came when I bought his and Mark Padmore’s critically acclaimed Schubert’s Winterreise. The partnership was very good and I have to say that it ranks within the top three of my twenty-something recordings of this cycle.

There is no denying that Paul is an outstanding musician with exceptional technique; and one great example was the cadenza in the first movement. The cadenza was executed in exquisite tone and formidable elegance. Another great moment was the partnership of Paul and the HKPO at the start of the 3rd movement. It was focused and exciting while Paul tackled all the tricky scale passages with graceful buoyant touch. However, overall, I came away impressed but not excited. The interpretation was standard and safe.

The Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, on the other hand, was absolutely fantastic! From the start till the end, the playing was rich and lustrous, exploring and capturing the innate brilliance of the score. The reading, more than splendidly articulated, was also discriminatingly dynamic. Edo de Waart was able to provoke tension in elegance and warmth in intensity. For such a popular and well-known symphony, there are always a lot of preconceptions and expectations to compete against and/or live up to. In this case, expectations were both met and exceeded.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

PREVIEW: Paul Lewis on Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5

There is just so much of good things happening right now. Last night, I went to the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong's concert with Dame Emma Kirkby. Because I went to see Emma, I can only go to the Saturday night performance of Manon (there's only two, either 6th or 8th). But then, my season ticket was for the Saturday night performance of Paul Lewis! After some coordination, I was able to move my Paul Lewis ticket to tonight, the 7th of May.

For this PREVIEW, I have found an interview (coutesy of HEAR HERE in the net) on Paul Lewis and the "Emperor" by Stephen Pettitt. ENJOY!

SP: The "Emperor" Concerto is a massive piece and undeniably it has a very grand title, although not one that Beethoven gave to it. Does the piece match up to that title, or is it really a bit of a misnomer, as with the "Moonlight" Sonata, another piece that Beethoven didn't name?

PL: Well, in this case it just so happens that the title does fit the character of the piece fairly well, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The intimacy and tenderness of the slow movement show us a totally different world, as a much-needed contrast with the intensity of the outer movements.

SP: And is it a radical work, as the third and fourth piano concertos certainly are?

PL: It's certainly radical in terms of its scale and its character - there had been nothing quite like it before - but personally I find it much less radical than the fourth piano concerto when it comes to matters like form and originality of ideas. That's not to say it's a lesser piece though. Not at all!

SP: What particular demands, apart from actually playing the notes, does the work place on the soloist?

PL: Despite its grandeur, the Emperor is often surprisingly chamber-like in its scoring. One of the big challenges of the piece is to combine that kind of chamber balance with the more dynamic style of playing that it also demands. You sometimes have to play both roles at the same time.

SP: You’re playing an instrument very different from the instrument that the concerto was first played on, with a whole different range of colours. What does using a modern instrument bring to the music, and what does it take away, if anything?

PL: Personally, I think the huge range of colour that the modern piano can offer far outweighs any disadvantages. There are occasionally some problems of balance and clarity, but this is something for the pianist to be aware of, and isn't too difficult to overcome.

SP: Many people might wonder if playing a concerto is as demanding and intense experience as playing a sonata all by yourself. Does the fact that in a concerto the pianist occasionally has a rest make it any easier?

PL: Whether you play the whole time or not, you're still completely involved in the music. The fact that there are seventy or so other musicians on the stage if anything makes the experience more intense than if you were just on your own. So no, it's not any easier.

SP: What does this concerto tell us about Beethoven's personality and his frame of mind at the time?

PL: That both were fairly uncompromising!

This is the site where I found this interview:

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

REVIEW: Queen of Baroque - Dame Emma Kirkby (HK DEBUT)

For me, the encores were the best part of the evening.

Tonight, 6th of May, was the Hong Kong debut of Dame Emma Kirkby. The concert with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong under the baton of guest conductor Simon Over performed to a full house at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall.

The concert started with Henry Purcell's Suite from The Fairy Queen. It was dull.

Then came Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata BWV199 Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (My Heart Swims in Blood). Honestly, I hardly noticed the orchestra as I was concentrating on Emma. I had difficulty hearing her. I was not sure whether it was because I was seated at the 4th row from the stage, house left (stage right), while Emma was singing on the stage left (house right); thus the vocal projection may not have worked for my benefit; or her voice was just relatively small. My mind was racing as I try to place the glimpses of sound I was hearing in relation to the recordings I have of her and in relation to other singers. I was not impressed. I was confused.

During the interval, I was lucky to find a friend who had an empty seat (center of the hall, about 10 rows from the stage) beside him, I graciously accepted the opportunity.

The second half started with Franz Josef Haydn's Symphony No. 38 in C major (Echo). In general, it was a fine performance. While there were places that I would have preferred a different treatment, the playing was significantly tighter; and the texture and details were clearer. I do feel that the Andante molto could have been a little bit lighter yet little more cadence.

Emma once again took the stage with two "concert arias", namely Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Nehmt meinen Dank, ihr holden Gonner! K383 and Ch'io mi scordi di te?... Non temer, amato beneK505. This time, after the seat change, I can hear Emma more clearly. While it revealed a voice that remained exquisitely pitched and beautifully refined, I had difficulty matching the voice with the music. First of all, the performance of both pieces were a wee too sulky and slow for my taste, while somehow, I tend to associate these pieces with voices that have a bit more vibrato.

What followed were the encores. Emma performed a total of four pieces composed of Vivaldi (?), Dowland, Campion and Purcell. In Dowland and Campion, Emma was accompanied by Simon on the harpsichord. I can't help but wish that there were more of Emma singing Dowland, Campion, Ford, Hanford or Danyel; and accompanied simply by the harpsichord or better, a lute. It is in these songs that Emma communicated with distinct empathy characterized by her instinctive phrasing and subtle ornamentation. By the time Emma sang Purcell's Dido's Lament, I was mesmerized. I don't care that her voice no longer has that "celestial" quality it used to have, what she brought on stage in Dido's Lament was a voice that was unforced, natural, open and most importantly, honest. Thank you Emma.

For those of you who wants to know more about this wonderful artist, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you check out the below references, especially The South Bank's Show: Emma Kirkby


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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

REVIEW: The Venetian Twins by the Hong Kong Players

For HK$290, I can think of two hundred ninety better ways to spend it.

Last night was the opening of the Hong Kong Players’s The Venetian Twins at the Hong Kong Arts Centre McAulay Studio. This Australian two-act musical comedy, directed by Lucas Cox, is an adaptation of a 1747 play by Carlo Goldoni titled “I Due Gemelli Veneziani” or “The Two Venetian Twins”. Music by Terence Clarke and lyrics by Nick Enright, the musical premiered on the 26th of October 1979 in the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House.

The crisp thin plot was about Zanetto, who had come to Verona to marry Rosina. Tonino, his twin brother was also in town to marry his Beatrice. Through a series of mostly second rate songs, twitching arms and legs; and amazing facial contortions, the twins (never to be seen together) get entangled with each other’s affairs. Inevitably, the musical finished with a cloying conclusion.

The Venetian Twins, just like most of the amateur theatres here in Hong Kong, tends to make the opening night looks like a technical rehearsal. In this case, the accompaniment was too loud in the first act (though has improved in the second act, was still loud) that I have difficulty hearing the actors, while the actors were obviously under-rehearsed. Overall, the choice of material was questionable, while the production lacked clarity and creativity.

In this agonizing plate full of sands, there were a few lumps of sugar. Camber Carpenter as the feisty maid, Columbina, stood out with her Carol Burnett-like charm. Hamish Campbell as the servant to one of the twins, Arlecchino, performed with amazing commitment despite given only eight days to rehearse. And Samuel Craig, as Zanetto and Tonino, finely balanced the two characters with sufficient differentiation to distinguish one from the other while maintaining enough similarities to explain the confusions.

My bit of research indicated that the manuscript and related papers of this musical are held by the Australian Defence Force Academy. Quite appropriate.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

REVIEW: Angela Hewitt - Mozart & Bach with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Shouldn't the billing read "Bach & Mozart" instead of "Mozart & Bach"?

Be it in the "order of appearance", "alphabetical order" or "chronological order", Bach should have come first. In this case, it should have the top-billing. At least that is what I believe should be the case. Angela Hewitt, Mozart & Bach with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra performed to a full and well-behave house at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall last night, 2nd of May.

I have to admit that the concert was one of those I feel obliged to attend not because the program was exciting but because it was going to be performed by a very well-known artist. I was introduced to Angela in her critically acclaimed recording of Ravel's solo piano music in 2002 and saw her in a piano recital in 2004 as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Bach and Mozart are not exactly what I would describe as exciting. Interesting? Yes. Beautiful? Yes. Exciting? Hmmm... not really.

The first half of the concert started with Johann Sebastian Bach's Keyboard Concerto in G minor, BWV1058. Immediately, one noticed the sound to be quite different. It could be the technique or the use of a Fazioli piano or both, but definitely the sound was somehow brighter and took a different shade. This was followed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat, K595. While both pieces were performed beautifully, it was the change from Bach to Mozart that amazed me. The programming made a good contrast that truly showed off and highlighted the beauty of both pieces and most of all, showed off what makes Angela one of the most celebrated pianists in the world. While the Bach's was brilliant, I would have preferred the Mozart's 2nd movement to be a wee less dragging and dramatic. The highlight of the first half though has to be how the cadenza in the Mozart's 3rd movement was dispatched with a smoky wisp quality. Just genius.

The second half followed the Bach - Mozart sequence. Bach's Keyboard Concerto in F minor, BWV1056 has to be the best of the whole evening. The 2nd movement was perfection exemplified. Because the music is so beautiful, there is always the temptation to overwork it. In this case, Angela and the whole orchestra played with refined sensibility while maintaining a narrow elasticity on the rhythm, enough to keep the emotion affecting and momentum going. Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466 followed. The dialogue between the orchestra and the soloist was stimulating in the 2nd movement. The orchestra kept up with Angela in every single line to build up into a tempestuous frenzy before slowly calming down.

Overall, it was very unexpected in a positive way. Interpretation judgements were wisely utilized, unpredictable and valid, making it... exciting. I am glad I went.


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