Last weekend, the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) delighted local audiences once again with its latest production, Franz Léhar’s The Merry Widow. In many ways, the performance was a grand break from the traditional. The performance was sung entirely in English, based on Basil Hood’s English adaptation of the libretto. Moreover, at a time when scores of operas and their productions have come under fire for ethnic stereotyping and under-representation of non-white singers in casts worldwide, SLO’s production featured a Sri Lankan-British soprano in the lead role.
Since its inception, SLO has manifestly attempted to foster a love for opera in Singapore. Over the years, they have staged popular operas by Puccini, Mozart and Verdi, very occasionally peppering their seasons with rarer works by Strauss and Offenbach to expose local audiences to slightly less-known composers. The Merry Widow, their first foray into operettas, though a resounding success amongst those present, saw significantly lower turnout than productions of more well-known works.
More theatrical than operatic, the production was placed in a Gatsbyesque setting in the roaring ’20s, a “period of wild energy…an era [that] captured the spirit well”, as British director David Edwards explained. The production was tastefully humourous, involving cabaret dancing and a number of references to Singapore.
The star role of Hanna Glawari, a widow who had just inherited a multimillion dollar fortune from her late husband, was sung by soprano Kishani Jayasinghe. Although off to a shaky start, Ms Jayasinghe’s powerful voice quickly soared as the plot unravelled. Her strong and melodious voice captured the attention of the audience in the piece Ladies’ Choice in the finale of Act 1. Immediately after, in Act 2, her performance hit its high note in Vilja Lied, the centrepiece aria of the operetta. Other notable performances included How exciting Tra la la la la.
The most even performance of the night came from tenor Nicholas Ransley, who sang the role of Count Danilo Danilovich, the First Secretary to the Pontevedrian Embassy, who was called by the ambassador to save his country from bankruptcy and marry Madam Glawari. Mr Ransley catapulted himself into his role from the very start, with his powerful performance of You’ll find me at Maxim’s. His versatility was truly showcased in the tender and mellifluous voice with which he sang the duet Strings are sighing.
The supporting roles of Valencienne and Camille de Rosillon were sung by soprano Tiffany Speight and Ashley Catling. Both singers, although starting off Act 1 with rather lacklustre singing, soon stunned the audience with their duet, There comes a time, amongst others. The Pontevedrian ambassador Baron Zeta was played by the baritone John Bolton Wood, who fit the role splendidly with his portly aspect and splendid acting.
Overall, this latest production joins a long list of SLO successes. The SLO’s willingness to risk producing less-known works such as The Merry Widow wins them this publication’s enduring gratitude, and it is our hope that local opera companies will continue to bring rarer operas to Singapore’s shores.
Photos courtesy of Singapore Lyric Opera – Bernie Ng