No Tenors Allowed v2.0 – Interview with Martin Ng, Teng Xiang Ting and Tang Xin Xin| The Flying Inkpot

No tenors allowed?! Isn’t that a little rude? And why are we picking on tenors anyway?
Aileen Tang talks to director Tang Xinxin, soprano Teng Xiang Ting and Lirica Arts’ Artistic Director Martin Ng to find out about the story behind this provocative title.

The Flying Inkpot: The title of this concert has raised a few eyebrows! Can you tell us a little about how it came about? And why version 2.0?

Martin Ng: We were inspired by the eponymous concert series of opera duets for baritone and bass by opera superstars Thomas Hampson and Samuel Ramey in the 1990s. We also took inspiration from renowned Taiwanese dance company Cloud Gate’s founder Hwai Min Li’s 2019/2020 staging of “Everyone calls me Mimi”, a presentation of soprano and tenor scenes from Puccini’s operas in an intimate but abstract setting, known as Li’s “one table one chair” theatre. Hence, we combined the two and came up with our very own version 2.0 for the baritone and soprano.    

Martin Ng, baritone and artistic director

TFI: The performance will include duets from Verdi’s La Traviata, Rigoletto, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci. I understand that this is going to be more than a standard recital of operatic duets. What can we expect to look forward to?

MN: Under the direction of Tang Xinxin, we hope to explore the theatrical dynamics of how the two soloists of the evening will relate to one another in a kaleidoscope of varying emotions. With Xinxin’s theatrical setting, the audience is afforded a glimpse into the intimacy of the psyche of each operatic character in a variety of situations of contrasting emotions.  Alongside the singers,  Shirdar Mani will, with his narrative, take the audience into the different worlds of the characters on stage. I believe Xinxin has arranged a special surprise for the audience with regard to this, so I shall stop here lest I reveal too many secrets of the show!

TFI: Xinxin, can you reveal a little about your vision as director? Will we see the production as 5-operas-in-1-show or as a single synthesized whole?

Tang Xin Xin, director

Tang Xinxin: I prefer to describe this performance concert as a “synthesis” where the various excerpts will be connected in a very ingenious way. All the excerpts are taken from operas that form part of the grand Italian operatic tradition and hence there is a “special” relationship between each of these works – not just in terms of chronological evolution of operatic music in Italy but also in the context of literary development. Of course, the most important thing is the charm of the music itself! To be able to experience the works from these five classic operas in one sitting is something I am definitely looking forward to.

TFI: That sounds like quite a massive undertaking! What is your approach to, in a way, staging five operas all at once?

TXX: My idea of staging “No Tenors Allowed” is not simply to stage each of the five operatic duets in isolation but to present each of the excerpts in relation to the entire opera. As such, how each excerpt begins and ends will be an interesting challenge, because their location in the opera and their function in the drama are all very different: Some of them are the causes that spark a chain of events; others are the consequences and reflection of the chain of events. Some are lyrical, some are dramatic, and there are both comic and tragic ones.

It is worth mentioning that the repertoire consists of duets for only baritone and soprano. Most of the operas feature the tenor and the soprano as protagonists and most of the time as lovers, but the relationship between baritone and soprano in opera can become so multi-dimensional, assuming various forms as lovers, friends, and even as father and daughter. Just as much as it is a challenge for me, it is also a challenge for the singers to be able to assume varying personas and create different chemistries in a single performance.

TFI: Martin and Xiang Ting, what is it like working and singing with each other? How do you navigate the different relationships between your respective characters in a single performance?

MN: It is my first time singing with Xiang Ting and it is a great experience. She’s a great musician and there is so much character in her voice. The music-making progress has been very exciting! As Xinxin pointed out, the challenge in this performance is the ability to switch from one character to another in a snap of the finger. For example, while Malatesta and Figaro from Don Pasquale and The Barber of Seville respectively are similar in character as the quick-witted friend who has a solution for every unexpected problem, they are as different as night and day from the psychologically complex character of the jester Rigoletto and the cynical bourgeois Giorgio Germont in La Traviata. Hence the challenge for me is not just the change in the colours and timbre of the voice in each duet, but also the “gestualità” and “fisicalità” (the gestures) of each distinct character. 

Teng Xiang Ting, soprano

Teng Xiang Ting: Martin is a wonderful friend and colleague to sing with! He’s well-prepared, and because he’s fluent in the Italian language, he’s also very reassured in all his texts. Learning and understanding the foreign European languages is a large part of the work for us non-native singers, so being able to sing with Martin who truly understands Italian is such a joy because we get to play with different layers of the drama.

We’re still in the process of navigating, but certainly the costume changes between the scenes help facilitate our rapid scene/character changes! Aside from the myriad vocal demands of this programme, I think this is perhaps the next most fun and challenging aspect of the performance!

TFI: What is the most important thing in a duet partner? What makes or breaks a successful duet?

MN: I think the most important thing is a duet partner is the ability to listen out for one another and, in terms of dynamics, create a complicity in music-making. It’s a double act and the responsibility of its success falls on both singers  

TXT: I especially value working with people whom I can trust and who show up prepared to play with the music. This communicates a respect for the music and for each other’s time, and frees up the space to really explore the spaces between the lines and between the notes. Of course, we’re all on our journeys to get to know the music better and that’s ever-evolving, but an enjoyable duet for me is one where both parties are open to keep asking, searching and listening.

TFI: Can you share with us what your absolute favourite duet is?

MN: It has to be the duet between the lovers Silvio and Nedda (from Pagliacci) because usually, the baritone hardly gets to sing any romantic music in any opera!

TXT: This is a difficult question because all the duets we’ll be performing are great excerpts from amazing operas! If I had to choose one, it’s probably going to be the Norina-Malatesta duet (from Don Pasquale). The playful music just sweeps you along and has such a joyful sparkle to it!

TFI: Back to the title, “No Tenors Allowed”! Are there some fun stereotypes that you can share with us about tenors, sopranos and baritones? And how do you defy the stereotypes for the latter two?

MN: One thinks of the soprano and tenor, being the usual protagonists, as the self-important “divi”, while the baritone is more grounded and easy-going – all tongue-in-cheek of course! Well, if you want to find out how we defy these stereotypes, then come watch our show!  

No Tenors Allowed version 2.0

Sun 19 September 2021

4pm

Victoria Concert Hall

Director – Tang Xinxin

Soprano – Teng Xiang Ting

Baritone – Martin Ng

Pianist – Beatrice Lin

Narrator – Shridar Mani

Tickets for “No Tenors Allowed version 2.0” are available from Sistic

https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/tenors0921

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