By: Spencer Davidson
Run: 10–12 September 2015
“Do you like opera?” is a question I don’t think many people can answer with certainty. After I attended Singapore Lyric Opera’s production of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi last night as an inexperienced member of the audience, I still cannot answer this question with confidence. I don’t want to talk much about my own opinion of opera in general here, because I think much of the value lies going in with no preconceptions and forming your own opinion, but I will say that the performance gave me much to think about and was a great introduction to western opera.
My exposure to opera was previously limited to R. Kelly’s rap opera masterpiece “Trapped in the Closet”, so do take what I say here with that in mind. Although there are jealous lovers and secret romances prevalent in this piece as well, my experience at the Esplanade theatre proved to be a completely novel one. There are two performances on the ticket, first Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and then Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, each about an hour long.
This was perfect for my regrettably short attention span and was quite a welcome revelation. In all honesty I had fully expected to be in for 3-4 hours of people bellowing “NOOOO”, but was heartened instead to be treated to a varied display of talents by skilled actors and musicians who succeeded in capturing my attention throughout the performance.
Pagliacci is the story of a group of actors acting out a play on and off-stage, first as a private tragedy, then as a public comedy which takes a disastrous turn when the actors’ on and off-stage lives collide. One of the overarching themes in this opera which I enjoyed the most was the reflection on the degree of separation between performance and real life.
This was invoked from the prologue of the play, when Tonio (played by William Lim) reminds the audience, that, although these are acted situations, the emotions portrayed come from a very real place. While the scenes were acutely tragic, I walked outside in the intermission feeling indifferent. Typically, I tend to get quite emotionally invested when watching movies, which led me to question just how much modern media has conditioned my emotional responses. Do I struggle to connect with opera because I am used to fast paced entertainment? There are so many other factors to consider: the opera was in Italian and it was my first time attending such a production. On the whole, it was a thought-provoking experience that gave me much to think about.
Gianni Schicchi is a lighthearted tale and one that wouldn’t benefit from any prescience. Thus, a word of advice: don’t read the playbill synopsis like I did before the piece. The opera is quite easy to follow and I’d say would prove even more enjoyable if you don’t know the conclusion. Gianni Schicchi is the emotional foil to Pagliacci; the director’s choice to pair these two operas is a wise one. When combined, the performances showcase a range of human emotion one is lucky to find in a single show.
I would absolutely recommend attending this production if you are new to opera like myself. In fact, I would just as strongly recommend this piece for seasoned opera lovers, though perhaps my opinion doesn’t hold much weight there. What does undeniably hold weight however, is that both of these operas have been performed for almost a century running and are still being performed today.
In any case, experiencing a new type of art just gives the mind so much to think about and it is generally inspiring to see talented people doing something that they love – no matter the medium – so if you get the chance, just go for it!