Preview: A Night at the Opera – Martin Ng (baritone)

Italy-trained Singaporean baritone Martin Ng is known for his extensive repertoire. Back home after reprising the role of Ping in Puccini’s Turandot with the National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts in Taiwan last month, Ng is preparing for his solo concert, A Night At The Opera. Accompanied by Beatrice Lin, this collection of best-loved operatic arias will be live streamed from Victoria Concert Hall on 30 September 2020.

Interview by Aileen Tang

The Flying Inkpot: How did the idea for this concert come about, and how did you decide on the repertoire for this concert?

Martin Ng: Actually, I was sort of jumping on the bandwagon after seeing many of my friends and colleagues presenting their works digitally and I wanted to offer my “input” in the digital arts world. The idea of opera as the theme of the concert came to me because as much as classical music, chamber music and art songs have already been presented digitally, operatic music seemed to have been a neglected genre, and I suppose it is also what I do most frequently, as a professional singer. The repertoire spans from Mozart to the bel canto, from Verdi grand opera to verismo – something which I have deliberately programmed to offer a range of operatic styles and music spanning over a century to my audience.            

TFI: You’ve worked with Beatrice Lin several times. Tell us a little more about the rapport that the two of you have.

MN: We have known each other for almost 10 years, from the Singapore Lyric Opera’s production of Strauss’ Salome, and since then we have worked on many opera productions together. She’s a close friend and colleague, and one of the foremost repetiteurs in the country. As a singer, I have benefitted so much from her musicality.

TFI: Given the technological challenges and uncertainties with live streaming, why did you decide on a live stream instead of a digital release of a recording?

MN: A live stream preserves the excitement of a live performance, only that the audience is a virtual one. It provides the necessary adrenaline for the performer to give his or her best – something which will not happen in a pre-recorded digital release.

Producing my own live stream concert allows me to come into contact with what it takes to organize a digital concert and the necessary equipment required in order to replicate an identical experience of watching a live performance in a concert hall. I am fortunate to have as my recording producer, Dominik Streicher, who has been streaming the concerts of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra since the Covid-19 epidemic and has had lots of experience with opera performances all over the world. With him on the team, the worries of the technological challenges of live streaming are considerably reduced.        

TFI: Many artists and arts organisations have turned to the digital medium in this current pandemic. Some see it as a sorry alternative to live performances while others regard it as an opportunity to adapt the art form for the modern age. What is your take on this?

MN: The experience of watching a live performance in an opera house or concert hall is irreplaceable. The audio experience that one perceives from the unamplified sound coming from an opera singer or the orchestra is mutated when it passes through digitalising equipment no matter how advanced the technology. In simpler terms, a 3D sound which you hear in the theatre becomes 2D. 

However, the digitalisation of live performances on online platforms allows the said performances to be potentially viewed by audiences worldwide that way exceeds any theatre, opera house or concert hall at full seating capacity. A live stream also creates more audience engagement with the performers by enabling the audience to comment on the performance in real time.  I was invited to sing at the National Weiwuying Opera House in Kaohsiung this August in a co-production of Turandot with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein and the performance was live streamed to a worldwide audience of 50,000.

TFI: How has the pandemic changed the future development of the arts in Singapore? How do you think it has change audience’s expectations?

MN: I think the pandemic has paved the way for more widespread digitalisation of the arts. I am predicting that whilst the performing arts centres will reopen their doors and live performances will be resumed, more of these performances will be digitalised and put on social media platforms to be catered to a worldwide “paying” audience for greater exposure.

TFI: If you could only perform one aria for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?

MN: It will have to be the Te Deum, which is Scarpia’s aria from Puccini’s Tosca, a role which I was fortunate enough to sing with the Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra in 2019. In that aria, the baritone is expected in 4 minutes to display all the monstrous qualities of the villain Scarpia, from being the ruthless and unscrupulous Head of the secret police to his insatiable lust for the beautiful Tosca. His sexual perversion is juxtaposed with his religious hypocrisy when, amidst religious murmurings of the Te Deum by the chorus, he exclaims, “Tosca you make me forget God”. I would be a lucky baritone to be able to continue singing this dream role for the rest of my life.

A Night At The Opera will be live streamed from Victoria Concert Hall on Sept 30, 7.30pm on youtube.com/martinng and facebook.com/Martinngbaritone

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