In a bid to making classical opera more accessible to the community, New Opera Singapore’s first full-scale production is bolstered by high-tech set projections, an intimate setting and a plot that will have you in stitches.
By Yong Yung Shin
While musicals have, in recent years, enjoyed an increasing level of mass appeal, opera still trails behind as “something associated with the prima donna diva, with fat singers screaming in a foreign language dressed in outrageous costumes, i.e. something altogether archaic and irrelevant,” so reads a press release by New Opera Singapore.
This perception is what this new opera outfit intends to change. Formed in June 2011 by Korean soprano Jeong Ae Ree with her Singaporean husband Chan Wei Shing, NOS is a non-profit organization that aims to strip opera of its inaccessible, highbrow image and re-introduce it to the community through fresh perspectives.
The organization’s press release explains: “For those who do take the chance to experience opera, they uncover a world that marries drama and music, supported by years of physical vocal training and character development. Opera is real life exaggerated in a manner that is beautiful and moving. It is precisely this exaggeration that allows artistic expression to flourish.”
Its first ever full-scale production, L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir Of Love), NOS promises a light-hearted tale of love and mayhem about a simple village peasant, Nemorino who falls in love with the village belle, Adina. It is composed by the Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti.
NOS’ music director, Chan himself is an established local musician, having been a cellist with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for more than a decade. City News chats with Chan to find out more about its upcoming production.
How is an opera different from a musical?
Musicals are in fact descendant of operas. The major difference between a musical and an opera is that an opera is sung throughout whereas a musical mixes spoken dialogue with song. Musicals actually developed out of the European tradition of operetta, which is like an opera but includes some spoken dialogue.
A flash mob of L’Elisir d’Amore was performed at ION Orchard recently—how was the response from the public?
It got a great reception. Many shoppers and passers-by were quite taken aback by the sudden busting into song but they enjoyed the music (watch excerpts from the flash mob at www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1fp9peSDCI).
How will L’Elisir d’Amore be different from other operas previously performed in Singapore?
We have a total of about 25 singers and actors in this production on stage, with an additional 27 musicians in the orchestra. This is a smaller production than what many Singaporeans may expect of an opera but we wanted to keep the production more intimate and direct.
Our director Goh Ming Siu has also re-set the opera in a modern day factory. We wanted to show that opera is not a relic of the past but an art form that is alive and evolving today, just as any other form, and that the value of the music itself transcends all eras, countries and boundaries.
Speaking of sets, we understand that the set design is based on “projection mapping”, something which has never been done in an opera production in Singapore before. Tell us more about it.
Most operas sets are constructed from scratch so that things like doors and buildings are physically present on stage. In projection mapping, the “set” is just a few blocks of white walls and platforms; using high-resolution projectors, the various settings of the opera (the factory reception, cafeteria, etc.) are projected onto these white walls creating the backdrops. This allows us to move from one scene to another very rapidly without having to actually change the set, and it also gives the production the modern edge that is reflected in the scenario.
What can audiences look forward to in L’Elisir d’Amore? What would you say to those who are interested in attending but apprehensive about not being able to sit through it?
It’s a comedy that mixes mayhem with deep emotion, expressed through some of the most charming and heartfelt music ever penned.
Many people think of opera as being something difficult to understand but it is no different than a film, other than the fact that the story is told through music instead of speech. In many ways, this makes opera even more accessible because music is a universal language that speaks to us all.
In addition, we will have surtitles for audiences to be able to follow the action and the dialogue on stage, so if there is ever time to fall in love with opera, that time is now!
L’Elisir d’Amore will be performed from July 20 to 22, 7:30pm at the SIA Theatre LASALLE College of the Arts. Tickets at S$20-100 from Sistic.