Tuesday, August 17, 2010

MORE OF SATOSHI on Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra 2010-2011 season

I thought I should just let it rest, but then I really can't resist to talk about my disappointment with the upcoming season of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Seemingly, I am not the only one. A reader left a comment on my previous entry on this issue and I thought that I should really share it.

"My dear, Maestro de Waart originally intended to do Eugene Onegin for this season in the Tchaikovsky Festival. The Board ruled it down on the ground of 'finance'. Edo was very disappointed, because his original plan was to do Mahler Symphony No. 8, the Ring Cycle, et al during his term as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of HKPO.

I was bitterly disappointed by the HKPO Board's unjustified (and unjustifiable) intervention.
HKPO has its own working team on sponsorship. The then Development Director was more than willing to back up Maestro de Waart in his various 'costly' musical adventures, discounting the subsidy from HKSARG. The Board Chairman was just being pig-headed, I think. The CEO of HKPO will leave this November, no doubt bitterly disappointed by the Board's recent interventions.

Opera Hong Kong is of course putting up full operatic productions, but I note invariably that the singers chosen by Opera Hong Kong are at least one class inferior of those employed in Edo's operas in concert. For instance, Franz Hawlata, Michelle Breedt, He Hui, Krystian Sigmundson, and other soloists that sung with HKPO like Anna Caterina Antonacci, Deborah Voigt, Jose Carreras, Renee Fleming, Heidi Grant Murphy, and oh dear, many many other big-named vocalists and operatic stars, just dig them up from the past programmes led by Edo, and you'd see what I mean...we were really getting VALUE FOR MONEY attending Edo's concerts....

Gee, he'd be so SADLY MISSED after 2012! "

My dear reader, assuming that your information were not just mere hearsay, how can I disagree with you! I share your opinion and the whole Board should just go to... whatever!

My inside information tried to defend the board and said that because the planning of a season is done way in advance and they were forecasting that economy will continue to be sluggish; therefore the board was trying to be conservative and planned for a mediocre season.

I want to believe that I am a practical person (hello, the blog is Paying Patron Perspective), but I can't understand why the solution to their forecast was to provide a weak season? I am not questioning the forecast here, even big businesses make mistakes in forecasting, but the solution? I feel that it is almost like shortchanging the customer. The quality of the product should be the last thing a brand should touch. Fine, if you really want to tinker with the quality of the product, then make sure that it is not distinguishable to your customer!

Sigh... anyway, I am just glad to be going to Shanghai to see Wagner's Ring Cycle next month. I have a reader from Australia who's also going and will be seeing the two times the cycle will be shown. To my dear Hong Kong readers, with the rate of how Hong Kong manages arts, I strongly recommend that you go to Shanghai and watch the Ring Cycle there, this could be your only chance...

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

SATOSHI on New Vision Arts Festival

The programme list of the New Vision Arts Festival is out... so what? Seriously, this may not be as hot as the Hong Kong Arts Festival, but for anybody who is interested in how the traditional arts are transforming and how contemporary arts are developing, the New Vision Arts Festival could be the answer. If you are wondering why you rarely hear anything about this festival, well, it is because this is a biennial event.

Looking at the programme, I have to say that the highlight is The Peony Pavilion. For this particular version, Bando Tamasaburo, Japan's most celebrated onnagata (an actor who specialises in female roles), performs with the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre of Jiangsu Province in an epic staging of Tang Xianzu's Ming Dynasty classic.

Bando Tamasaburo is an iconic figure on the Kabuki stage in Japan today. His grandfather, Kanya Morita XIII, performed with the legendary Mei Lanfang in Beijing in 1926. In the 1980s, Bando Tamasaburo learned the Peking Opera, The Drunken Royal Concubine, from Mei's son Mei Baojiu. He then applied Peking Opera technique to the Kabuki work Emperor Ming and Lady Yang. In 2007, he began studying the role of Du Liniang, the female lead in The Peony Pavilion, with a number of famous Kunqu opera artists. According to the programme, "While following Kunqu tradition, Bando Tamasaburo succeeded in externalising the classic heroine's inner emotions with a feeling that transcends cognition, a quality that typifies Japanese theatre".

This event is BIG! Mr. Tamasaburo performing in Hong Kong is a big deal. In fact, I have a friend who's going to Japan to see this same production and was very surprised that it is actually coming to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, he has already booked his ticket (HK$1,000). In any case, the solution is to watch it twice!

Another show I love to see is the Mortal Engine of Australia's Chunky Move. Mortal Engine is one of the group's latest work that has swept international award with its innovative blend of state-of-the-art technology infused in movements that brings a new dimension to the staging and a new way of viewing dance.

Other shows that I find interesting include: Hear the World. Dadawa in Concert 2010 (featuring the Chinese world music star Dadawa), the world premiere of Mr. Vampire (modern dance and live music by the Guangdong Modern Dance Company and Hong Kong New Music Ensemble); and The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (A digital opera in 7 acts by Zuni Icosahedron featuring the famous Chinese bass Tian Hao-Jiang).

For more information about the festival, please visit the below website.


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PREVIEW: La Boheme with the Opera Hong Kong

Puccini's "La Bohème" will be staged in October. The ever popular opera is set in the Bohemian quarter of Paris, "La Bohème" centres on the tragic love of the poet Rodolfo and the seamstress Mimì. Both living in poverty, they fall in love at first sight in the garret but are separated through Rodolfo's jealousy, and reunited only as Mimì lies dying.

This new production, a joint effort by Opera Hong Kong and Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, will be updated to the mid-20th century with a modern Paris setting. Maurizio di Mattia from Teatro dell'Opera di Roma is stage director, and talented conductors Gianluca Martinenghi and Bruno Aprea will conduct alternative performances.

The superb cast includes Jesus Garcia (who played Rodolfo in Baz Luhrmann’s production of Puccini’s La Boheme on Broadway) and Alessandro Liberatore as Rodolfo, and Sabina Cvilak (who had a triumphant debut as Mimi in La Bohème at Washington National Opera - 2007/08 season)and Erika Grimaldi as Mimì. Also performing will be the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Opera Hong Kong Chorus and Opera Hong Kong Children Chorus.

Fascinatingly, the matinee performance on October 10 has brought the casting closer to home and will feature talented young vocalists with Xue Haoyin as Rodolfo, Yuki Ip as Mimì, Sun Li as Marcello and Margaret Yim as Musetta. This would be a VERY interesting performance... I have already booked my tickets and I am seeing two performances: the one with Garcia and Cvilak and another one with Xue and Ip.

Puccini's four-act opera "La Bohème" (sung in Italian with Chinese and English subtitles) will be staged at 7.45pm on October 6 to 10 (Wednesday to Sunday), and 2.30pm on October 10 (Sunday), at the Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

For more information, click on the below link:


Check out Jesus Garcia (the hunky guy by the bedroom window) in this ad of the Baz Luhrmann production of La Boheme for Broadway (2003):

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

REVIEW: Whisper of Flowers《花語》

There were a lot of aspects to like about in Whisper of Flowers: the music was Bach's Suites for Solo Cello, the theme were juxtapositions of day and night, exuberance and anxiety, and flowers and hairs; and the style was distinctively modern yet remained true to the company's cultural root. There was only one thing though that I dislike, and that was how all these aspects came together.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) of Taiwan's performance of Whisper of Flowers《花語》on August 4 at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre was a bit disappointing. In my years of attending performances by Cloud Gate, I have to say that I would put Whisper of Flowers at the bottom of my list.

Cloud Gate played a huge part of my artistic and cultural life. My first Cloud Gate experience was way back in the mid-80's with their performance of Legacy《薪傳》. It was like nothing I have ever seen and the company danced as if nothing else mattered. It was distinctively modern, yet distinctively Chinese, two facets I never thought could possibly co-exist so beautifully.

Whisper of Flowers was created by Lin Hwai-min as part of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival. Lin chose Anton Chekhov's Cherry Orchard. Instead of coming up with a narrative plot with characters from the original play, Lin opted to explore and expound the theme of youthful enthusiasm giving way to dark apprehension.

The use of red petals carpeting the stage while dancers try to keep their footing in their dance was quite a challenge, but it was visually stunning. The use of black human hair in the second part was also quite interesting as a contrasting feature, but it didn't succeed in integrating into the dance.

Using Bach's Suites for Solo Cello all throughout the piece was for me a bit too much. With so many aspects of the concept banking on disparity, the unifying Bach music stood out "un-unifyingly".

Whisper of Flowers do have the signature physical precision and poetic possession of Lin. He obviously has a couple of profound points he wanted to get across and he crafted them beautifully and eloquently. In between these points though were segments of monotonous dance, almost self-indulgent and bordering pretentiousness.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

REVIEW: Mad About Musicals!

Mad About Musicals! at the Skylark Lounge on July 31 was a well-spent HK$150 and I enjoyed the evening very much. And if given the chance, I would do it again... and again.

Musical numbers are tend to be crafted to express bigger, deeper or just plain "out-of-immediate-context" emotions that regular words in a play can't achieve. Not all musical numbers though translate well in the context of a lounge act. I once witnessed a pair performed A Boy Like That (West Side Story) in a lounge and all I can remember now is that they were crying and screaming at each other.

Meanwhile, Mad About Musicals! chose songs that were just right for a lounge act. There was a good combination of ballads, athems, funny and fun songs. Most importantly, most of the songs did showcase the very varied talents and styles of the performers.

My personal favorite was Sandra Leung Water's Cabaret (Cabaret), I Enjoy Being a Girl (Flower Drum Song) and Some People (Gypsy), which fitted her to a T. Olivier de Molina, with his operatic voice, did worderfully well by choosing songs which were staples of singers like Howard Keel, John Raitt and Alfred Drake. The one song I wished he didn't do though was Anthem (Chess), which sat a bit too high on his voice. Arvin Robles, who also directed the show, performed confidently with his own jazzed up versions of the standards. His Any Dream Will Do (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and The Time Warp (The Rocky Horror Show) had the audience itching to participate.

Sheri Dorfman was wonderfully funny in songs like I Cain't Say No (Oklahoma!) and the "Forbidden Broadwayesque" I Feel Pretty (West Side Story) until she tried singing the ballad Memory (Cats). Michael Sharmon, also the writer of the show, did a beautiful job by providing enough information and perspective on the different songs while also injecting some witty and funny moments. Michael also proved that he has very good comic timing in his performance, but unfortunately, these were not showcased more in his solos. Instead, he opted to sing anthems like I Am What I Am (La Cage Aux Folles) and Stars (Les Miserables), which were a tad heavy for his lyric voice.

Overall, it was a great evening and how I wish that there are more lounge acts that feature songs from musicals.

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