Monday, November 29, 2010

REVIEW: Insane in the Brain by Bounce Street Dance Company

The HK Academy of Performing Arts Lyrics Theatre, Sunday November 28

There is a thin line between genius and insanity. Insane in the Brain plays heavily on that thin line, the line between high and low art, beautiful and ugly, polished and raw; and groundbreaking and bromidic. It is this ability to make the audience rethink that made it almost insanely attractive.

The dance by the Bounce Street Dance Company is based on Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I have to declare that I have neither seen the movie nor read the book, thus I was watching this dance version as a virgin.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest took place in a psychiatric hospital dominated by the calculating and cold nurse Mildred Ratched. Meanwhile, Randall Patrick McMurphy, a new patient transferred from prison camp, challenged her routine and power.

The whole concept of this dance version is pegged on the concept of street dance battle, one group versus the other. This was not only highlighted in the dance but also visually segregated in the costume (patients vs. nurse), skin color (white vs. black) and yet all these contradictions were juxtaposed against a gray neutral stage. There was also a good mixture of other types of dances. While it may be kind of cheesy, I can’t help liking the “Flashdance” segment (when the patients were having hallucination) complete with the signature head-back-seating-on-chair pose and water splashing down. But just like any good hallucination (not that I had a lot), the "Flashdance" became "Flushdance" with the signature chair replaced by toilet seat and the water splashing down triggered by the toilet flush.

The story was clearly told (at least based on my understanding and verification with my friends who have seen the movie or read the book) though I question the balance given to the different scenes as I find the beginning of the story kind of slow.

While there were some stage effects that were too common, they were used sparsely and to good results. All throughout though, the sounds were consistently too loud… apparently not only to my older-classical ears but also to my younger-hip hop friend’s ears.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

SATOSHI on HSBC Symphony Under The Star

Happy Valley Racecourse Recreation Ground, Friday November 26

Even before the Symphony Under The Stars concert started, I have decided that I am not going to this same event next year; and that surprised me.

How can I be raving about it in my PREVIEW and yet now I am totally disappointed with it?

It has nothing to do with the orchestra or the conductor (Perry So) and definitely not the guest soloist (Boris Giltburg). They did a good job under the circumstances and the sound engineers provided a fairly good balance in the microphone placing and amplification.

What really disappointed me was the ever-problematic HKPO management. I am not privy to the thinking behind the event, but I can only assume that it is there to attract new audience… so that means I am not the target audience…. The message was very clear even on how they gave out their tickets…

The feeling I got the moment I stepped into the Recreation Ground at around 5:15pm was that I was gate crashing an HSBC private party (and I thought Swire sponsored it) and HKPO was hired for entertainment. The whole front section of the ground all the way to the frontal TV tower in the middle of the ground was reserved for HSBC VIP. While HKPO has provided the concert for free, one can only get the leftovers. It was like HSBC has invited people to witness how privileged they were. It was vulgar. It was like HSBC distributing fruits in a charity facility and telling the people they don’t get theirs until HSBC VIP got some first. It was vulgar. Whether HSBC has asked for such arrangement or HKPO has allowed it, it was mind-boggling. It just reinforced the preconception that classical music is for the elite. From an audience perspective though, I tend to blame HSBC as it should know better.

Mind you, I am all for sponsorship as long as it doesn’t interfere with the vision and mission of the sponsored organization, or in this case, the event. I don’t mind souvenir programs or venues flooded with advertisements. HKPO and HSBC has totally missed the point of a "free public concert". I believe big companies should do a bit more toward sponsorship as long as it can be sincere and not self-serving; and in return, companies should get due recognition. That is why it was mind-boggling why HSBC allowed this to happen. Why should a well-respected organization put itself out there is such a poor light?

As for the ever-problematic HKPO management, I don't even understand how the concert pass the crowd control standard here in Hong Kong. The point of having wide avenues in the recreation ground is so that if something happened there will be enough space for people to go to. Instead, the pathways were filled with people seating on their mats and there was no one there to control these unsafe behaviors. This also made a lot of the people who came in early to seat behind the pre-determined borderline very angry. It was chaotic.

So next year, I will not go to Symphony Under The Stars so that the underprivileged and the unwashed can have my ticket and my place. I can afford it anyway and I am a subscriber (for now), I will just duly support HKPO by being a paying patron. As for the people out there, if you have any liking to classical music and would like to support HKPO, buy tickets and attend a proper concert, and leave the Symphony Under The Stars to the people who can’t afford tickets and people who are not familiar with classical music and HSBC VIP's. As for HSBC, shame on you.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

REVIEW: Das Rheingold in The Metropolitan Opera HD Live

Bethanie’s Wellcome Theatre, Sunday November 21

This new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold was perfectly literal and figurative; and traditional and innovative! Totally mind-blowing!

Cirque du Soleil director Robert Lepage’s production has a rack of 24 planks (“the machine” as MET calls it) that can rise and fall and turn 360 degrees that forms a variety of forms and functions. One of the most stunning stage images was when Wotan (Bryn Terfel) and Loge (Richard Croft) descend to Nibelheim on a huge stairway. Wotan and Loge (body doubles of course), harnessed on cable, walked perpendicularly on a wall of stairway giving the audience a top view of the journey… simply amazing… simply something that one doesn’t expect on an opera stage.

James Levine worked magic with the brilliant orchestra. I have never heard so many details in Das Rheingold. Motifs were elegantly raised and displayed.

As for the cast, it was the best of the best… well except for Richard Croft…not that he was horrible, but his voice was just a tad small for the role.

The biggest revelation for me was Stephanie Blythe’s Fricka. The last time I saw her (and it was live!) was in Royal Opera House’s production of Handel’s Semele as Ino back in 2003, she was funny and fantastic. This time, in a Wagner opera, she was commanding and vulnerable. I remember the saying, “Bellini wrote beautiful music to be sang dramatically, while Wagner wrote dramatic music to be sang beautifully”; and that’s exactly what I heard.

It would be interesting to see how the production progress through the whole cycle and I certainly do hope that Lepage has a lot more tricks up his sleeves. So far, my worry that the production will be enslaved by “the machine” didn’t happen…. but for how long? We will see… I will be in New York next year and I thought that I should try to get tickets for Die Walkure (my favorite in the cycle), well it is sold out, so it will be Die Walkure in The Metropolitan Opera HD Live in Hong Kong for me then…

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

REVIEW: Cho-Liang Lin and Jian Wang with HKPO

I have to confess that the review for this concert was not exactly easy. It took a long time for me to decide whether what I heard and felt was a mismatched or was just something different from what I was expecting... In any case, here is my review in Time-Out Hong Kong:


Posted in Time-Out Hong Kong Online on November 25 2010

Cho-Liang Lin and Jian Wang Live in Hong Kong
4 out of 5 stars

Cultural Centre, Saturday November 13

Temperamentally different, Cho-Liang Lin and Jian Wang provided an out of the ordinary rendition that bordered on being mismatched.
The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, led by maestro Edo de Waart, offered a Viennese-themed programme starting with Webern’s Passacaglia, Op. 1. Despite it being his 127th composition, Webern regarded Passacaglia as his first “advanced” music thus has published it as his Op. 1. Indeed the piece remains one of the most influential in the 20th century music. Edo de Waart’s finely balanced treatment heightened the natural flow of the music but down-played the robust drama.

It was followed by Brahms’ last composition before dying in Vienna, Double Concerto for violin and cello in A minor, Op. 102, featuring Cho-Liang Lin (violin) and Jiang Wang (cello). Both artists excelled in technique and expression, but it was the relationship between the two soloists that provided a nagging angst to the music.

Aside from the second movement, which was played with unity in tone and intent, the first and the third movements gave an impression of an emotional discourse with profound underlying differences. Wang was more deeply reflective while Lin was more impulsive, a combination that would have been disastrous if played by lesser performers. Instead, the partnership provided an unusual yet valid artistry, though maybe not as compelling as it could have been, or as compelling as their encore, Handel’s Passacaglia.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55 (Eroica) came after. Throughout, the playing was heart-on-sleeve, uncompromising and bold yet with an aura of elegance about it. Edo de Waart found tenderness in vivacity and conciliation in austerity in this work of great emotional vigor and dynamic structural rigor.

Satoshi Kyo

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

REVIEW: Ton Koopman's Haydn & Mozart with HKPO

It must be the best Haydn and Mozart live performance I have heard from HKPO!

First thing first, the programming of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s Ton Koopman’s Haydn & Mozart concert on November 20 at the Cultural Centre Concert Hall was superb. The combination was just right with a fine balance of more and less familiar, and with variation of forms.

After enjoying immensely The Peony Pavilion the previous night, I was hoping that this will not spoil my weekend… and boy I was so grateful. I couldn’t ask for a better Haydn & Mozart evening.

With Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 in B flat, Koopman paid careful attention to the piece’s contrasting dynamic. The crisp vivacity and clean sound was genuinely refreshing and astounding.

Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante in B flat was the highlight of the evening though. This featured Jorja Fleezanis (violin), Richard bamping (cello), Michael Wilson (oboe) and Benjamin Moermond (bassoon). HKPO responded to Koopman with warm and refined playing. The solo contributions were easy and careful with a twist every now and then.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550, a most-familiar piece, achieved warmth without loss of urgency and drama. I did wish, however, that the two outer movements had a wee more tension.

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REVIEW: The Peony Pavilion (Sino-Japanese version)

The opening night on November 19 of The Peony Pavilion at the Kwai Tsing Theatre Auditorium attracted a full house. This Kunqu opera came with a subtitle “Bando Tamasaburo’s Sino-Japanese version”, a subtitle that is so important in appreciation of this performance.

Bando Tamasaburo is the best known onnagata actor (an actor specializing in female roles) in Kabuki . For this production, he works with the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre of Jiangsu Province. This performance featured 7 of the original 55 scenes (20 hours).

In general, it was a very gratifying evening for me. Tamasaburo’s Du Liniang borrows greatly from Kabuki. The movements were subtlety in stylized acting. His was less rushed and jerky in movement (when compared with the other actors) with nuances so delicate that some people may interpret it as insipid. He ensured that his portrayal was never coy or coquettish to the point that made him look like a drag queen. His Du Liniang was always a dignified lady.

A lot of the emotions were removed from the face and translated to series of fine and measured movements. I was particularly in awe as how he poised himself in these refined positions, such as having only one foot appearing under her dress regardless of standing or seating down. In the moments when she was frail, that same foot was shown leaning on its side… just wonderful.

The performance of Tamasaburo was equally matched by the members of the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre. Yu Jiulin provided a handsome and eloquent Liu Mengmei, the love interest of Du Liniang. Shen Guofang’s Chunxiang, Du Liniang’s personal maid, was delightful and genuinely affecting. However, the other highlight of the evening though was Lu Fuhai’s Dream Spirit and Nun Stone. Lu, a National Class One Performer, has the gift of story telling that despite not understanding fully the dialect he was speaking, I seem to know what he was saying!

Related link: SATOSHI on New Vision Arts Festival

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Hong Kong Artist Censored in Netherlands

Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah, known for his works combining expletives with floral pattern (text with image) has decided to pull out of an exhibition at the SCHUNCK* Heerlen in Netherlands after the museum feels that his work is too sensitive for such a prominent place as the entrance/lobby. Tsang was given the choice to either change his work or move the work to a less ‘public’ area.

"The head doesn't want to show my work/texts in the proposed area, the entrance/lobby... the texts are some direct & indirect views and ideas related to the right wing party/politician, the third & emerging force in the parliament there”, Tsang explained.

Who exactly is the Director fearful of and what exactly are the texts about?

Well, the politician in question is Geert Wilder, the leader of the third-leading political party in the Netherlands. This is the guy who has campaigned to stop the “Islamisation of the Netherlands”. The same guy who suggested that women who wear headscarf should be taxed and construction of mosques should be banned.

As for the texts, the following are the texts the Director of the museum want Tsang to change:














Needless to say, the art community here in Hong Kong is in shock. One can imagine this happening in Hong Kong (wink), but in Netherlands? Is this the same country that is known to be so progressive that it became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage?

Well, it is Netherlands’ loss and Tsang’s gain. Netherlands has just missed the opportunity to see this great artist’s work, while Tsang gains his colleagues’ and audiences’ respect for his integrity.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

REVIEW: Il Trovatore of the 24th Macao International Music Festival

I have to say that the featured opera of the 24th Macao International Music Festival (MIMF) has to be the worst of all the MIMF operas that I have seen since 1997 or 1998. Mind you, I have always enjoyed the MIMF operas, thus I was very disappointed to see this… funny enough, the first MIMF opera that I saw was also Verdi’s Il Trovatore featuring the famous Russian mezzo/contralto Elena Obraztsova.

This year’s production of Il Trovatore by Elke Neidhardt was imported from Australia. I have seen this production before in Melbourne (with the famous Welsh tenor Dennis O’Neill) back in 2007. My impression of this production didn’t change after seeing it on November 6 at the Macao Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium. It was good but at the same time not good enough to be memorable.

I actually do like how the production was moved from the 15th century to 20th century. There were some visually interesting moments, e.g. how the two walls when placed side by side and lit up from the back actually formed a cross; or the religious icons opening up to nuns singing behind it… though whether the use of icons for the Spanish Civil War period is appropriate or not is another issue. At the same time, there were some visually questionable moments, e.g. having the prison scene set high up and way back the stage and ALL the singers singing behind bars… it has actually dampened the drama when it needed to be highlighted.

When I saw this production in Melbourne, I also saw Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Dvorak’s Rusalka; and for some reason, it is these two other productions that I have a clear picture of in my mind. Scene after scene in Il Trovatore, I was thinking, “Oh yeah, now I remember that now!” As for the prison scene, THAT I remember thinking what a terrible design it was!

What really made this Il Trovatore the worst MIMF opera I experienced was the singers. While some were not too bad, most were vocally undesirable. As for their acting skills, either they were very uncommitted or totally over-acted. The difficulty in producing a good Il Trovatore is that a company needs to have four equally good leads with each showcasing a different voice range.

In the leading cast, Mina Tasca Yamazaki’s Leonora was wobbly and shrill, while her acting belonged to 1920’s movies. Francesco Anile, playing Manrico, was either having a bad night or was just lazy. Every now and then, he would produce some beautiful ringing tenor lines, while most of the time, I felt like he was reciting the music. His acting didn’t help either. Sebastian Catana’s Count di Luna was the best in the cast with his robust baritone voice and assertive stage presence. Fedrica Proietti’s Azucena was one-dimensional but provided glimpses of a voice that is tonally ample and has a warm texture.

Supporting the leads, Dmitry Belosselsky was a commanding Ferrando and appeared natural and instinctive. The Slovak National Theatre Chorus contributed solid vocalism and was consistently involved in what’s happening on stage.

The Macao Orchestra, led by Lu Jia, didn’t do any better either. It suffered imbalance a lot of times, had difficulty staying together and communicating any genuine emotions.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

ALMOST REVIEW: De Waart’s Schumann with the HKPO

I only attended the first half of this concert on the 29th of October at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall. I didn’t have my usual seat as I was supposed to go to this concert on Saturday, but had to move it to Friday instead due to a more important appointment. What happened due to this decision has significantly lessen my enjoyment of the concert. I used to be seated in the stall left section. For this concert, I was exiled to the balcony and the world there is quite different.

There was a bunch of boys a few rows in front of me who kept laughing all throughout the concert despite being warned by the usher. I am actually not quite sure what they were laughing about as they have their earphones on, it must be something they were listening to from their phone. Then I had a bunch of girls to my left that were very busy flipping through their papers, discussing and writing. It must be a school assignment. Then, the biggest annoyance was this little girl right in front of me who sniffles loudly every 5 seconds (yes, I timed it). I felt like asking her mother to ask the girl to blow her nose. Obviously, the girl was ill but the mother really wanted to go to the concert. Throughout the first half, the mother was very absorbed with the performance… how I wish I had that kind of concentration power!

Okay, now to the concert (first half only). Marking the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Schumann, this all Schumann concert started with Manfred Overture. There is a general perception that Schumann’s orchestral works are inferior to his other types of composition or even to other composers. Unfortunately, the uninspired tepid rendition of Manfred simply reinforced that perception. Manfred is a dramatic poem written in 18-16 to 1817 by Lord Byron and contains supernatural elements, which was quite popular in England at the time. Any interpretation that doesn’t ride the crest and ebb of the unnerving circumstances of the poem is bound to sound halfhearted.

The Piano Concerto followed with Chen Sa not improving the situation. The interpretation was standard. I wouldn’t say it was bad, but just uninteresting and mechanically brilliant. It was during the second movement, that my mind started to wander and the bright idea of not attending the second half of the concert popped up. Chen Sa’s encore was Schumann’s Widmung (Liszt’s arrangement?). Here, she did better, but I have already decided at this point that I want to leave… beside, she was not playing in the second half…

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

PREVIEW: Symphony Under the Stars with HKPO

It is time for the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s Symphony Under the Stars again. The first time I attended this annual event was last year, two months after a very good friend of mine passed away suddenly. I thought that it would be nice to bring the executor of my friend’s will (who travelled all the way from Canada) to the event. The experience was not only memorable but also blown me away!

Being a subscriber to the HKPO, it was almost like a ritual to go to the concert hall on Saturdays and sit on the same seat solemnly. For Symphony Under the Stars, me and my friends sat on our picnic mat and enjoyed our olives, cheeses, hams, dips and Champagne; and just let the music wash over us. For once, I don’t care the little noises made around me or even whether the balance in the orchestra was to my liking or not… I just enjoyed life and was just very grateful that the experience was made available.

This year’s Symphony Under the Stars will be on November 26 at the Happy Valley Racecourse Recreation Ground. Perry So will be conducting and Moscow-born, Tel Aviv-raised Boris Giltburg will be the soloist. That night’s program is:

  • DVOŘÁK Carnival Overture
  • CHOPIN Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor
  • MUSSORGSKY (orch. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV) Khovanshchina: Act I: Prelude – Dawn over the Moscow River 
  • PROKOFIEV Selections from Romeo and Juliet Suites: Montagues & Capulets, Juliet the Girl, Morning Dance, Masks and Tybalt's Death
  • TCHAIKOVSKY 1812 Festival Overture

To know more about this event, check-out HKPO's website:

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Monday, November 1, 2010

SATOSHI on West End Musicals

I am going to London for a few days during the Chinese New Year to attend a friend’s birthday party, before I go to Berlin for the first time. Winter may not be the best time to visit Berlin, but the fact that the opera houses are open, I don’t mind… I think… we will see…

The last time I was in London was in August 2009, even at that time, I feel that I need to get out of London as there is not much that I haven’t seen in London, this include sights and musicals. Yes, I love musicals and I tend to prioritize this over the more expensive operas. With more and more operas available in DVD and in cinema, I feel that I am missing out in musicals.

But even for last year, I already had difficulty finding musicals that I haven’t seen… I still remember I ended up seeing Marguerite by Michel Legrand (not bad at all) and last performance of Too Close to the Sun by Trippini (very bad). Now, after a year and a half (deliberately avoiding London), the situation hasn’t change. I have enough time for 5 shows and yet, I can’t find 5 musicals to fill it up. Out of the 23 musicals that will be on during my trip, only 8 of them I haven’t seen:

  • Dreamboats & Petticoats: The Musical (based on the album of the same title)
  • End of the Rainbow (about Judy Garland's last performances in London)
  • Flashdance (based on the movie of same title)
  • Ghost: The Musical (based on the movie of same title)
  • Love Never Dies (sequel to The Phantom of the Opera)
  • Love Story (based on the movie of same title)
  • Thriller Live (tribute to Michael Jackson)
  • Woody Sez: The Words, Music and Spirit of Woody Guthrie (guess...)

Out of the 8, only 4 have original music. Out of these 4, only one has an original story. So far, I have only 4 in my list: Flashdance, Ghost, Love Never Dies and Love Story. Out of these 4, I am actually only looking forward to Love Never Dies and Ghost. For some reason, I have a feeling that Flashdance and Love Story would be quite cheesy.

As for the rest, they are all using existing songs and just stringing them together with a concept… not really my cup of tea. I feel like the whole package is missing the essence. I don’t mind a musical based on a movie. Why not? If a musical can be based on a book, why not a movie? But a musical based on existing songs tied together with a concept is really more like a revue. Of course, there are exceptions. Mamma Mia for one totally surprised me. Jersey Boys, on the other hand, didn’t impress me at all.

I suppose what is most revealing here is the state of musicals, there is just not enough people out there composing original musicals! WHY? Is it the lack of creativity or just the lack of money to finance an original production?

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