A Midsummer Night’s Dream – An Interview with Jeong Ae Ree and Jeremy Chiew of New Opera Singapore – Aileen Tang

Artistic Director Jeong Ae Ree and Assistant Artistic Director Jeremy Chiew

Aileen Tang from The Flying Inkpot speaks to New Opera Singapore’s Artistic Director Ms Jeong Ae Ree and Assistant Artistic Director Mr Jeremy Chiew about New Opera Singapore’s upcoming production of Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

The Flying Inkpot: Tell us more about New Opera’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”! How did the choice of Britten’s Midsummer come about?
Jeong Ae Ree (JA): Because of the music. Our Music Director (Chan Wei Shing) loves the music. He has been singing it for many years! It’s in English. It’s Shakespeare. It’s a story from the 16th century and we’re making a new version of it.

TFI: Most Singaporean audiences will be more familiar with Shakespeare’s play. What do you think of Britten’s treatment of Shakespeare’s material?
Jeremy Chiew (JC): If anything, Britten makes it very accessible – it’s easy to listen to. Even though it’s a modern opera, the tunes aren’t ‘odd’. [Staging-wise], it’s going to be quite magical with a lot of surprising elements. It’ll be more exciting than what people already know of Midsummer.

It’s not going to be, for the want of a better word, a time-accurate production. For example, for the ‘Rustics’ (Ed- Bottom, Quince, Flute et al), we’ve taken the approach of making them a boyband. That’s going to be, if nothing else, visually entertaining!

Stage directions are minimalist in approach, and props are used interchangeably throughout – whether just as decorative props or as a crucial part of the storyline.

TFI: What has been the greatest challenge in staging this production?
JC: The intricacies of the relationships between the characters. We want to present it the best that we can within that limited time span of 2 hours on stage, so we try to highlight these relationships through the things we do. 

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing by William Blake, c. 1786

TFI: New Opera is known for being very edgy in its choice of works. How does this production align with New Opera’s future artistic direction?
JA: The general direction is pretty much the same – [we are] always slightly ahead. New Opera always sets a new direction, both for the audience and the performers. Localising opera and doing lesser-known or new works is also something we started. Midsummer was last staged in Singapore in 1997 (by Singapore Lyric Opera) but we are doing it very differently – it is a completely new production.

TFI: New Opera did Britten’s Turn of the Screw in 2015 and this will be its second Britten opera. Are there any other Britten operas on the horizon for New Opera?
JA: I would like to, but there are so many main singers in Britten operas and it is very difficult to get all the voices. But never say never! If I find suitable singers for the number of roles, then it is in consideration. I love Britten!

TFI: What can opera newcomers and opera connoisseurs look forward to?
JC: The typical Shakespearean drama can be expected, but because of the way it’s produced and the music, it’s going to be much easier to understand. The first-time opera-goer wouldn’t be lost. There is nothing to worry about. The opera connoisseur can look forward to high performance standards — the singers have been specifically chosen for this opera so that the roles can be portrayed to their fullest potential. Alongside the stellar local cast, we have also invited Korean singers who sing with Daegu Opera House and DaeKyoung Opera Company.

TFI: Sounds like it’s going to be a treat! What are 3 words that you would use to describe this production, and to convince the audience it should not be missed?
JC: It will be fresh, unexpected and memorable!

Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays from 16-17 August 2019 at the Victoria Theatre. Tickets available at https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/dream0819

Segments of this interview have been rearranged, edited and condensed for publication.

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