Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Sometimes you get what you ask for
I generally adore all forms of live performance. Music, theatre, performance art, musicals, folk forms and of course dance. Except opera. Somehow it was never something that i could really get into. The exaggeration of sung emotion alternating with recitative just weirded me out. I couldn't stomach the casting of aunties the size of boats as the beautiful princess Turandot. Everybody on stage just seemed to make such a huge deal out of everything. I also came to detest singing in public, after too many traumatic and humiliating karaoke sessions. Not that I didn't try to grow to like opera. Even after a span of a decade watching the Singapore Lyric Opera, the Met, Cantonese opera troupes, and even after two years basking in the infectious enthusiasm of Dr John Sharpley's "Music in Dance" course at NAFA. Two years ago I told him, "I have a confession. Opera isn't really my thing. But I'm willing to be convinced."
Then in June I got cast to workshop "All is Divine" for the trilogy "A Very Wagnerian Night" by Charlotte Engelkes from Sweden for the Singapore Arts Festival. I got worried. I gave myself a crash course on Wagner, and of course called Dr Sharpley...
And from a week in the midst of some wacky and very talented people who find a stairwell and burst into song for the acoustics instead of doing extensions on the handrail or hopping on it to slide down, I finally found myself thrilled about song and its place in live performance experience. I had some spoken lines in that show but I didn't get to sing - no way to put my untrained voice next to people with operatic and musical theatre backgrounds - but I sure wished I could!
It's been years. I began to remember fondly the days when I was thirteen and singing "Help Help the Globolinks" with the children's choir of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra Ladies' League. More recently I was sitting in the premiere of "Fences", a new opera by Dr Sharpley and Robert Yeo, and realised that I was genuinely moved. It didn't matter any more that the leading role of the Malay girl was being sung by a Korean lady with an uncanny resemblance to Suzanne Jong. I guess I'm finally learning to feel and appreciate the departure from realism into surging emotion and aural aesthetic, something I only knew and accepted previously in movement (of course when the prince and princess fall in love, they dance, what else would they possibly do). Anyway, full circle... this weekend I am singing on stage again for the first time since the Globolinks (1993) and a brief comic outburst in Melissa Quek's "Possibilities" (2007). It's a theatre piece, "Pretty things" by Pat Toh. I'm starting modestly - it's only "Happy Birthday" - but I am really getting into it.