Friday, September 30, 2011

Is The Met: Live in HD in Hong Kong Educational?

My friend who takes care of booking all the MET tickets for our group of friends got an email from the organizer of The Met: Live in HD announcing that it might not be able to continue with its showing as the HKAPA is proposing a huge rent increase for the use of the Wellcome Theatre. The increase is apparently due to the introduction of a new policy that will forego the charge of a nominal rentif the rental was for educational purpose.

What is happening now is that Brenda and Laurence Scofield, Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Foundation for the Arts and Music in Asia (FAMA – the organization supporting this initiative), are appealing to the public for support. They are asking the public to email them about their experiences and tell them how showing opera at the Wellcome Theatre has been good for the public and for nurturing arts in Hong Kong. Equipped with these emails, they hope to show HKAPA that indeed this initiative has educational benefits and HKAPA should keep the old policy and do without the huge rent increase.

I, for one, want the The Met to continue; and if the organizer believes that the Wellcome Theatre is indeed the ideal venue, then I will try my best to support them. There is no doubt at all that The Metropolitan Opera is indeed one of the greatest, if not the greatest opera house in the world. For Hong Kong people to have the opportunity to experience and discover the significance and magnificence of this art form from the best is of utmost important. It doesn’t only alleviate the standard of the audience, but also set the standard for Hong Kong artists to aspire to.

It is exactly these kind of initiatives that the HKAPA should support as it tries to create and nurture the future demands for the graduates of HKAPA. This reminded me of the time when I met a young lady who was attending her first “opera” during the broadcast of Die Walkure. After the showing, she raved about the experience and thanked me for explaining bits and pieces of the opera before and during the intermissions. The reality is that I have absolutely no doubt that with any lesser opera house AND with any lesser venue, she would have walked out already during the 1st act and will never ever thought of attending an opera again.

So to all my readers, if you believe that The Met: Live in HD is worth supporting, please write to the attention of the Director of HKAPA. You may send your email to him in care of FAMA at this address:


Friday, September 23, 2011

REVIEW: In the Heights (Manila) by Atlantis Productions

Carlos P. Romulo Theatre (Manila), Friday September 16

This staging of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical, In the Heights, by Atlantis Productions has all the necessary street vibe without going overboard with the “yo-I-am-rapping-and-I-am-cool” cliché.

I am not particularly a huge fan of rap music, but I do have to admit that when rap is used carefully in musicals, it does elevate itself to a form that straddles between spoken words and music lyrics. While the movie Carmen: A Hip Hopera (based on Bizet’s opera Carmen, starring Beyonce Knowles and Mekhi Phifer) got mostly negative reviews, the movie did make the prospect of the migration of rap to the world of musical more palatable. In the Heights, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, beautifully infused the musical with some rapping that beautifully bridge and delineate the narration from the rest.

This new production, however, was careful to ensure the rapping stays within the realm of the book and doesn’t explode into over-the-top, hand-chopping, ghetto-style hip-hopping. Director Bobby Garcia understands that at the heart of this sweet and sentimental musical is a manageable barrio of Washington Heights (New York), filled with real people holding on to their American dreams, while nervously coping with the changes around them. Whether it is cultural affinity, social empathy, artistic ability or a combination of them, the musical worked extremely well with the creative team and cast.

At the heart of the truly fabulous cast is Nyoy Volante’s Usnavi (named after one of the first sights his parents saw when they arrived in America, a US Navy ship). Volante does not fit your regular leading man stereo-type… he is not particularly tall or handsome. However, Volante’s Usnavi was attractive because he is that good, sincere and funny person that every gal would at the end prefer and settle for. Bibo Reyes, playing Sonny (Usnavi's sidekick), was a revelation. His Sonny was a bundle of kawaii, naughty and cute, large and cuddly… cough… cough… a natural comedian and an actor to watch out for. Tex Ordonez as the salon owner, Daniela, was a fire-cracker of gorgeous outrageousness. K-la Rivera’s Nina Rosario (the start college student of the barrio) was beautifully sang and dramatically promising. Felix Rivera (whom I saw in Atlantis Productions’ Next to Normal) maintained his polished self in the role of Benny, the non-Spanish-speaking love interest of Nina. I do wish though that he can be just a tad more spontaneous.

If there is one big disappointment in this production, it has to be the choreography. This salsa-flavored soap opera needed that extra kick from the dancers and the choreographer to truly mark it as that great award-winning musical. Unfortunately, for this production, the dancers were not skilled and versatile enough and the choreography was in divergence with the Latin-sentiment of the musical… no joy… no fun… and pathetic salsa.

In the Heights
Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda
September 2 - 18 2011

Creative Team:
Director: Bobby Garcia
Musical Director: Ceejay Javier
Choreographer: Cecile Martinez
Scenic Designer: Mio Infante
Lighting Design: Jay Aranda
Costume Designer: Twinkle Zamora

Artists include:
Nyoy Volante: Usnavi
Ima Castro: Vanessa
Felix Rivera: Benny
K-La Tivera: Nina
Calvin Millado: Kevin
Jackie Lou Blanco: Camila
Tex Ordonez: Daniela
Jay Glorioso: Abuela Claudia
Bibo Reyes: Sonny
Tanya Manalang: Carla
Jummy Marquez: Piragua Guy

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

REVIEW: Simon Trpceski with HKPO

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday September 10

“It was like a totally different orchestra!”, my friend gasped when I saw him after the concert. Well, I will not go that far, but indeed the orchestra sounded different and in a good way. Whether it is Lawrence Renes at the helm, or Igor Yuzefovich as the guest (and also announced new) concertmaster, or the fresh combination of old and new members of the orchestra, or a combination of any of the above, what I suspected during the season opening gala was confirmed on Saturday: HKPO sounded wonderfully cohesive and balanced. BRAVO!

As for guest Simon Trpceski, his performance of Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 was absolutely better than his No. 2 early this year with HKPO. Credit goes to conductor Renes for not letting the orchestra overwhelm the piano and also Trpceski for pulling his weight. Rach 3 is notorious for its technical and musical demands on a performer. It is definitely one of the most technically challenging piano concerto in the standard classical repertoire and Trpceski glided through it with confidence. Trpceski’s musical ease and fluency was not showy but also not exactly riveting. His Rach 3 tended to be more prim and proper rather than over-heated and heart-on-sleeve, a poetic perspective that the audience seems to adore.

The highlight of the evening for me was Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2. Here, the HKPO was in great form right from the cellos and basses announcing the six-note inspiration in the 1st movement to the signature ending in the 4th movement. Slavic temperament was never far while in general; HKPO provided a performance ample in tonal heft. The strings were agile, refined and thoughtful; and Renes was careful to bring out clarity and texture amidst sustaining the emotional thrust of the piece.


Trpčeski's Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3
9 & 10-9-2011, Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 3
RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 2

Lawrence Renes, conductor
Simon Trpčeski, piano
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

REVIEW: HKPO 2011-2012 Season Opening Gala

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday September 3

I highly recommended this Season Opening Gala in my (with Mark Tjhung) feature in the Time-Out Hong Kong magazine despite maestro Edo de Waart was indisposed. Young Dutch conductor Lawrence Renes replaced the maestro and led the orchestra persuasively through Mozart’s Symphony No 41 ‘Jupiter’ and Mahler’s The Song of the Earth.

To read my review of the concert, please click here.


Mahler 100 - The Song of the Earth
2&3-9-2011 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

MOZART: Symphony No.41 Jupiter
MAHLER: The Song of the Earth

Lawrence Renes, conductor
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
Stuart Skelton, tenor

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

REVIEW: Can We Talk About This? by DV8 Physical Theatre

Shatin Town Hall, Friday September 2

“Can We Talk About This?” was hardly asking the permission to talk about talking but rather literally asking whether it has the ability to talk about talking. In fact, the title almost sounded more like somebody has asked, “can you talk about this?” and DV8 repeated the question and set out to prove that indeed it can and it did eloquently and breath-takingly last night.

This new Lloyd Newson production for UK’s DV8 Physical Theatre, “Can We Talk About This?” premiered a week ago at the Spring Dance Festival (Sydney Opera House) and made its Asian premiere last night at the Shatin Town Hall. Newson’s penchant for dealing with psychological and socio-political issues has never been more significant and substantial than the subject of Islam, the freedom and the lack of freedom to talk about it. From the question, “Do you feel morally superior to the Taliban?” to the burning of Salman Rusdie’s “Satanic Verses”, from the murder of Theo Van Gogh to Zena Briggs flee from forced marriage, from Ann Cryer’s campaign against forced marriage to the controversy of the Muhammad cartoons in 2005, Newson’s production scrutinizes the effects of these events on the policies, the press and the public.

As Newson casts according to the subject matter and performers’ appropriateness for each new project (DV8 has no permanent company of performers), this production is not only infused with performers that look and talk the part, but also renders the production an ample level of diversity and fluidity. It plays to the strength of the each individual in the solo parts, while group performances were directed with precisions that challenges DV8’s own boundary, both aesthetically and physically.

In this production, performers speak and move relentlessly. They were together yet somehow they were not connecting. They may move with synchronicity but flickers of polarity were never far and were never more jarring. The language of the movements was responsive to the sensitive and divisive topic Newson has chosen and broke down the barriers between theatre and dance. At the end of the day, the centerpiece of this production is the risks it took in subject and form.

DV8’s last visit to Hong Kong was in 2000 with “Can We Afford This?” As much as we sometimes feel that Hong Kong is a cultural desert, it takes a lot of vision and guts to bring such a thought-provoking performance to Hong Kong. Leisure and Cultural Services Department got it brilliantly right this time. Bravo.


Can We Talk About This?
September 2-4 2011
Auditorium, Shatin Town Hall

Creative Team
CHOREOGRAPHY Lloyd Newson and the performers

PERFORMERS Joy Constantinides, Lee Davern, Kim-Jomi Fischer, Ermira Goro, Hannes Langolf, Samir M’Kirech, Christina May, Seeta Patel, Anwar Russell, Ira Mandela Siobhan

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