Concert Review: L’Arietta presents Honestly! Three Operas in an Hour

honestlyL’Arietta presents Honestly! Three Operas in an Hour

Joseph Horovitz: Gentleman’s Island
Mr Gray, a tea taster (Reuben Lai, tenor)
Mr Somers, an indigo importer (Brent Allcock, bass)

Chen Zhangyi: Window Shopping
Older woman (Angela Hodgins, soprano)
Younger woman (Akiko Otao, soprano)

Samuel Barber: A Hand of Bridge
Sally (Angela Hodgins)
Bill (Reuben Lai)
Geraldine (Akiko Otao)
David (Brent Allcock)

Director: Jameson Soh

2 April 2016
3pm, 10 Square @ Orchard Central

Review by Derek Lim

Honestl3While we’re used to operas lasting two hours or more (hello, Puccini, Verdi and Wagner), there’s something to be said for brevity. Performed at the intimate 10 Square auditorium ‘in the middle of Orchard Road’, as publicity put it, this performance put forth bite-sized works by Joseph Horovitz, Chen Zhangyi and Samuel Barber in an easy afternoon of cheerful  entertainment.

Sets were simple but effective and rearranged in between operas for maximum impact, and Wayne Teo’s attentive accompaniment ensured a stable musical canvas on which everything was painted on. First up was Gentleman’s Island (right), at 30 minutes the afternoon’s longest opera. Written in 1958, this piece describes how etiquette gets in the way of two shipwrecked Englishmen stranded on an island together. Levity was the order of the day, with several laugh-out-loud moments from Lai and Allcock as they navigated the dilemma of not having been formally introduced, all while being tied together at the hip with a rope. Lai’s English training was evident in his tenor, with its beautiful tone in the upper registers, though Allcock’s light-coloured baritone was larger and more resonant. Excellent emphasis on the text and comedic timing made the half hour speed by delightfully.

Honestly2A quick set change and Chen Zhangyi’s chamber opera Window Shopping (left) came on, with the stage transformed into a shoe boutique. By turns introspective and mercantile, the opera was a worthy vehicle for SOTA faculty Angela Hodgins as the thirty-something year old woman, whose attractive tone was put completely to the service of the text. The libretto by Jack Lin, offering several interesting insights like ‘Is there such a thing as a perfect pair (of shoes)’ and play on words like wondrous/murderous, while entertaining, was sometimes a little ponderous in its profundity. The very likeable Akiko Otao, as the twenty-something year old, was perfect in her portrayal of mercantile vapidity – a little like Glinda from Wicked – thinking of her shoes as ‘a new lover for every season’. Costumes reflected the mood too, with Otao dressed in a flowery piece, while Hodgins was in an altogether more sombre pants-suit. In turns impressionistic and jazzy, Chen Zhangyi’s musical language was very approachable.

Honedtl4Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge (right) rounded up the trio of operas. Lasting just nine minutes, it brought together the four singers as two unhappy couples, each skilfully given their turn in the spotlight in four ariettas. Lai sang Bill’s arietta about his lover, Cymbaline, ardently, contrasting against his wife, Sally’s (Angela Hodgin) comically earnest repetition of ‘I want to buy that hat of peacock feathers!’ Geraldine (Akiko Otao) took an altogether more serious tone, mulling over her relationship with her dying mother, with her husband, David (Brent Allcock) absorbed in more lascivious thoughts of wealth and power in his dream life on Palm Beach as ‘the King of Diamonds,’ with twenty naked girls and boys attending to his pleasures. An exercise in brevity, each made full use of their two minutes in the spotlight – a lovely end to an hour of opera.

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