Sunday, December 26, 2010

SATOSHI on Berlin - Classical Music, Opera & Operetta

All these snows in Europe are making me very nervous. I am going to London and Berlin during the Chinese New Year. Not only have I paid for the flights and hotels, I have also already paid for my theatre tickets of my Berlin segment. I wonder whether my travel insurance covers them, in the event that I can’t go due to the weather…

Anyway, while I plan to have a “musical” London, I am going to have an “opera” Berlin. Here are the shows that I have booked:

JANUARY 30 - Orchestra Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle, Magdalena Kožená at the Chamber Music Hall, Berliner Philharmoniker

  • How can one go to Berlin and not go to a Berlin Philharmonic concert? At the point of this writing, this concert is already sold out! Boy, am I glad I booked my tickets last week! I am not surprised at all that it is sold out; this concert will be celebrating Hans Werner Henze’s 85th birthday and aside from the famous husband and wife, Rattle and Kožená (mezzo-soprano), they will also be joined by Andrew Staples (tenor), Wolfram Teßmer (baritone) and Guy Braunstein (violin). The program will include Hans Werner Henze’s
Violin Concerto No. 2 
and Gustav Mahler’s
Das Lied von der Erde.
FEBRUARY 1 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Hochzeit des Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at the Komische Oper Berlin

  • I think this will be my first time to hear this opera in German! The musical direction will be by Ariane Matiakh and the staging will be by Barrie Kosky. Here are some of the cast members: • Graf Almaviva: Tom Erik Lie • Gräfin Almaviva: Brigitte Geller • Susanna: Maureen McKay • Figaro: Carsten Sabrowski • Cherubino: Elisabeth Starzinger

FEBRUARY 2 – Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus at the Semperoper Dresden

  • Oh, did I mention that I am also going to Dresden? The musical direction will be by Alexander Joel
and the staging will be by Günter Krämer. Here are some of the cast members: • Gabriel von Eisenstein: Hans-Joachim Ketelsen
 • Frank: Michael Eder
 • Prinz Orlofsky: Barbara Senator
 • Alfred: Andrej Dunaev
 • Dr. Falke: Christoph Pohl
• Dr. Blind: Gerald Hupach
 • Adele: Carolina Ullrich
 • Ida: Andrea Schubert
 • Frosch: Wolfgang Stumph
 • Rosalinde: Evelyn Herlitzius

FEBRUARY 3 – Tommaso Traetta’s Antigona at the Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

  • Tommaso who? Frankly, I have never heard of him, but the reasons why I am going to this opera are: 1) I like investigating different theaters in a city, 2) Rene Jacobs will be conducting and 3) Bejun Mehta will be performing. Vera Nemirova will be directing the opera and here are some of the cast members: • Antigona: Veronica Cangemi • Ismene: Jennifer Rivera • Emone: Bejun Mehta • Creonte: Kurt Streit • Adrasto: Kenneth Tarver

FEBRUARY 4 – Der Lustige Witwer at the Theater am Kurfürstendamm

  • Okay, I have to admit that this is a mistake and this is what happens if a site is not in English. I am usually very careful in booking tickets, but this was just plain German stupidity. Their online ticketing service advertised it as the Franz Lehar operetta, complete with the picture of the composer and the synopsis. Unfortunately, when I visited the website of the theatre, it was all in German... in any case, I have a feeling that it is actually a play by Simon Moss after the British sitcom “Tom, Dick and Harriet”! So, I might just ditch these tickets and look for another show. There is really no point of going to a German play when my German is…

FEBRUARY 5 – Richard Strauss’ Die Liebe der Danae (The Love of Danae) at the Deutsche Oper Berlin

  • Now this would be interesting to see. I have never seen nor heard this opera before, and I believe that it is actually rarely performed. The only experience I had of is the recording of one of its arias by Renee Fleming in her album Homage. The opera will be conducted by Andrew Litton and directed by Kirsten Harms. Some of the cast members are: • Jupiter: Mark Delavan • Merkur: Thomas Blondelle • Pollux: Burkhard Ulrich • Danae: Manuela Uhl • Xanthe: Hulkar Sabirova • Midas: Matthias Klink

Well, that will be it and hopefully, I will have time to write a review of each!

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

SATOSHI on Letras Y Figuras, an ingenious Filipino art form (Part 1)

I was looking for an appropriate Christmas card in my stash, when I saw this card, published by the Ayala Museum in the Philippines. This work by Alvaro Jimenez in watercolor in 2002 is entitled “PASKO”, which in Filipino means “Christmas”. I was very lucky to be able to negotiate and purchase the original painting in 2002 in which the card is based on. What makes this painting interesting is that it is based on the 19th century style called Letras y Figuras (Letters and Figures).

Letras y Figuras is perhaps the most unique Filipino design arts during the Spanish colonial period. It is an art form wherein the artist creatively forms letters by making the most out of the contours, colors and shadings of the different human figures, animals, plants and other objects. A letras y figuras artwork normally showcases an individual’s name – usually the patron’s. It usually integrates a variety of images that tell the story about the patron who commissioned it. A good example of this is the modern letras y figuras artwork in the Malacanang Museum of the Philippines bearing the name of Imelda Romualdez Marcos. Yes, the politician and wife of the 10th Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who is often remembered for her collection of 2700 pairs of shoes. In her painting, buildings and institutions that she (and her husband) has established were proudly showed-off. I do wonder who painted it.

Santiago Pilar, an expert on 19th century paintings and a professor of humanities explained it as “age-tinted paintings in manila paper depicting vignettes of the 19th century Philippine life, ingeniously arranged, delineated and highlighted with color to form the letters spelling out a certain person’s name.” She believes that they are “some of the most quaint and endlessly fascinating relics of the Filipino culture in the Spanish times.”

Jose Honorato Lozano (1815-1855)

watercolour on Manila paper
23 x 28in. (58.4 x 71.2cm.)

Unfortunately, I rarely see this art form practiced in the Philippines anymore. Thinking about it, this painting by Alvaro Jimenez is the only one I have seen since 2002 despite my occasional visits to different Philippine galleries. My little bit of research indicated that the Instituto Cervantes in the Philippines used to hold an annual Letras y Figuras competition. However, the latest article I can find in relation to it was in 2005, the 10th Letras y Figuras Visual Arts Competition. Back in 2002, Instituto Cervantes presented an extensive Letras y Figuras exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila to honor this classic Filipino art form. The exhibition was composed of three modules: 1) original 19th century works from private and institutional collectors, 2) works by today’s foremost authority in Letras y Figuras painting, Alvaro Jimenez; and 3) the works of the seven finalists of the 7th Letras y Figuras Visual Arts Competition, as well as the awarded entries in previous editions of the contest.

This uniquely Filipino art genre is so rich in history and visual beauty that it would be such a loss if Filipinos stop practicing it.

For more information about this art form, here are some articles I have found in the web:

P.S. Like to know more about Letras y Figuras? Check out my interview with the foremost authority of Letras y Figuras, Alvaro Jimenez.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

REVIEW: Sumi Jo with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Two years ago, I went to see Sumi Jo (also with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra). I was sitting on the first row of the circle (literally right in front of her) and was pleasantly surprised on how fantastic she sounded. This year, I thought that I would sit on the last row of the circle (the farthest I can) and see whether I can still hear her and enjoy the concert...

Below is the link to my review with the TIME-OUT magazine of her performance with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Zhang Guoyong:


Posted in Time-Out Hong Kong Online on December 16 2010

Sumi Jo Live in Hong Kong
5 out of 5 stars

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday 11 December 2010

Rarely does one associate classical music with the word “show”, unless you are the type who goes to the classical section of a shop and ends up buying cd’s of Sarah Brightman or Katherine Jenkins. But in Sumi Jo Returns, part of Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s Great Performers Series, the Korean soprano gave Hong Kong a “show” that the full-house-audience lapped up with a standing ovation.

Supported by the HKPO and maestro Zhang Guoyong, the show was a mixture of opera arias punctuated with orchestral music to allow Jo a little rest and more-than-a-little costume change. Most of the orchestral works were dispatched in a customary way, almost as if the orchestra simply gave up trying and thinking the audience were there only for Sumi Jo. In particular, the Prelude to Act IIIof Verdi’s La Traviata and Spring of Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani were lacking of any Italianate energy. With the arias, the orchestra did better and was careful not to drown out Jo.

It is always a welcome opportunity to see an opera star performing as her individual self rather than a character in an opera. Here, Jo indeed shamelessly showcased a whole lot of herself. She flung out big arias (from Bellini’s I Puritani to Bernstein’s Candide) with exquisite tones, impressive accuracy, and oodles of high, occasionally dizzyingly drawn out, notes. Everything she did was designed to entertain and please, be it her three gowns, each flashier than the last; or the dramatic way she turned to the choir stall audience and back, all while sustaining a top note. Attempts to dig deep emotionally or to communicate the arias in character were kept minimal. Instead, Jo charmed the audience with her solid technique, her personality, and a fine balance of self-importance and self-deprecation. Overall, it was a night of solid entertainment.

Satoshi Kyo

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

REVIEW: Cinderel-LAH! by Wild Rice

Esplanade Theatre (Singapore), Saturday December 4

Wild Rice production of Cinderel-LAH! offered the best in community theatre but not the best in value-for-money.

During my weekend in Singapore, I went to see the Wild Rice production of Cinderel-LAH! (A Magical Musical Pantomime). I chose this because I have seen their production of Animal Farm early this year here in Hong Kong and I enjoyed it. (See my review of Animal Farm

What I got out of this pantomime though was very far from the standard and sophistication of Animal Farm. While Animal Farm has all the qualities of a production suitable for a major arts festival, Cinderel-LAH! was conceptually insular and unfocused.

With the emphasis of LAH in Cinderal-LAH!, local spin on the fairy-tale was inevitably expected. The story was about Cindy and her evil casino-obsessed step-mother and two ugly step-sisters, Precious and Treasure. Cindy’s love interest was transformed from Prince Charming to Prince Char Mee and the ball became The Grand Fish Ball.

This production suffered from being in a big theatre, having gratuitous numbers so that First Stage (Wild Rice’s training arm) kids have something to perform in and expensive tickets. With ticket prices ranging from ~HK$240 to ~HK$600, either one can’t help but to expect a top-notch production or treat it as a charity to a community theatre.

If one is not to consider the ticket prices and treat it as a piece of amateur community theatre, I think it was not bad at all. The local reference was funny and almost still as relevant as it was first conceived in 2003. The strength of the show lies on the well-written songs (lyrics by Selena Tan and music by Elaine Chan) and very competent musical performers such as Emma Yong (Cindy) and Sebastian Tan (Prince Char Mee). While some of the other performers may not excatly be the best singers, every major role was infused with great comedic timing and commitment.

The experience didn't deter me though from buying every single Wild Rice recording I can find in the Esplanade shop.

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