The Experience with Singapura: The Musical

Presented by The 4th Wall Theatre Co

ED GATCHALIAN
Composer / Arranger / Musical Director

GREG GANAKAS
Director

JOEL TRINIDAD
Librettist

Capitol Theatre

22 May – 19 July 2015

Singapura: The Musical credit: Liang Vincent WANG

Singapura: The Musical   (credit: Liang Vincent WANG)

My second kid was born weeks ago. It’s like reset button been pressed. I was sent back again to the life changing experience when my first kid was born. I have not stepped in any performance venue for a month before I was invited to the newly restored Capitol theatre for the musical, Singapura.

The Plot

http://www.singapurathemusical.com/synopsis.html

“Singapura: The Musical takes the audience through a journey of love, hope, and new beginnings while exploring the strength of the human spirit during the formative years of Singapore’s history from 1955 to 1965. Through the eyes of ordinary men and women…Their passion and drive sees them dreaming, hoping and creating – against all odds – a place where they can truly call home.”

The Music

The music used in musical is mixed from fast paced songs, light hearted tunes and touching melodies. Some of the lyrics were adapted from Singapore historical lines. It may remind you about the secondary school history class. The same text could be seen as dramatic for audiences in other parts of the world.

The singing is certainly more than satisfying. The cast should be given credit. It’s not easy to sing while managing themselves in the fast paced acting. The orchestration were kept simple as the pit size allows only a small ensemble. It would be great to hear a more full body orchestration. Still the musicians did a good job for the show. To me, live music is always better than pre-recorded playback in the theatre.

I really enjoy those slower paced songs, e.g. “The Home I knew”, “Remember” and “Something About You”. Maybe more are needed to re-calibrate the whole dynamic and to relax the audiences in between the tumultuous scenes. In fact, for any musical, most audiences only remember the slow songs. It might also be helpful to cut back on words and narratives to distant itself from being a bit documentary. On the other hand, allocating more developments on the personal touch around the characters. This would also allow the audiences more time to think and reflect on the story.

Through the production you can probably hear and see the influence from Les Miserable and Moulin Rouge. Mind you, the former musical received negative reviews when first premiered in London, “a witless and synthetic entertainment”.

The Stage & Lighting

The stage setting was constrained by the small space, yet quite effective. The use of the LED projection set the necessary backgrounds. The three storey structure was also put to good use through the show. I like the way it was managed in the scene of Lee May and Flynn’s separation and also the scene of the mother’s death. The best is the lovely authentic Kopitiam setup. This alone means a lot to the people who lived through the era.

Leading cast in the Kopitiam (credit: Liang Vincent WANG)

Leading cast in the Kopitiam (credit: Liang Vincent WANG)

The lighting was general good, like the starry night scene with Lee May and Flynn. During certain scenes, the lighting might be a bit cold and casted a depression feel. A bit warmer and nostalgic feel might bring the some comfy to the audiences. I’m sure they badly need it after following through the turbulence.

Scenes from Singapura- The Musical (credit to Singapura- The Musical

Scenes from Singapura- The Musical (credit:  Singapura- The Musical)

The Venue

The Capitol Theatre was an iconic building. The restored one is no less so. For performers, new venues are always exciting and challenging with all the uncertainties. This is especially true in the first few years after opening. Think of the recently restored Victoria Concert Hall, Esplanade in the early years. Not just in Singapore, the €400 million Philharmonie de Paris is going through the same right now.

I spoke with the Sound Designer Ms Emily Adam after the show. The technical glitches and challenges posed by a new theatre made her job tough for every evening even after a few runs. If time allowed, it would be great to fine tune the sound balance with different cast and musicians. As someone working for DTS, it would be wonderful to have surround and ambience to envelop the audiences even better.

Inside the theatre, credit: Liang Vincent WANG

Inside the theatre (credit: Liang Vincent WANG)

The Cast and Accent

Before coming to the show, I had read many comments on these. Both drawn a lot attentions, which I fully understood.

If you had followed plays or operas, this is probably not a problem at all. Everyday there are Shakespeare performed around the world by different cast. This reminds me of the Richard III with Kevin Spacey years ago in esplanade theatre. The American accent did not make it a bad production.
Have you ever watched an Italian opera by English or German cast?
These things are pretty common around the world in the theatre business. A great work can be performed by cast from countries with different accents or even different native languages.

Would I like to see a production of this musical with more Singaporeans in the cast?
Yes. (There are 11 right now)
Is this a deciding factor to determine whether this could be great show?
No.

Then why it became so controversial here? Perhaps, it is the title of the work plus its premiere was in Singapore, where the audiences have the authentic accent and may know the history better than the cast.

Singapura- The Musical Gala Night with Guest of Honour Minister Tan Chuan Jin (credit: Singapura The Musical)

Singapura- The Musical Gala Night with Guest of Honour Minister Tan Chuan Jin (credit: Singapura The Musical)

The Production

You may want to read the story behind the musical told by the composer himself. From there you will find why this production was brought by a team from Philippine.
http://www.singapurathemusical.com/the-musical-composers-journey.html

The 4th Wall theatre is a new player in the musical scene. It may not be at the top of game to be compared with Broadway or West End. In fact, the production team is taking a great risk to produce this original musical and bring its world premiere in Singapore. They had to work with limited time, resources and unlimited challenges.
Isn’t this just like the building of Singapore? It is not perfect, but the team should be given the due credit for their job. And they are taking steps each time and in fact every evening to improve.

The Experience

It is very different between reading the reviews and being part of a live performance. The difference is like reading a soccer post match analysis and being in the stadium and part of the game.

In this very special year, it makes perfect sense to immerse yourself in the history never presented in this way before. Overall I felt my two and half hours well spent. I even bought a copy of the recording as a souvenir. Certainly, I hope to catch a production of this musical again with my daughter and son many years later!

Original Cast Recording (Credit: Liang Vincent WANG)

Original Cast Recording (Credit: Liang Vincent WANG)

If you’d like to experience yourself, the performance is ongoing till 19 July 2015

Singapura: The Musical
Capitol Theatre
Tickets from $65 at eventClique,
https://singapurathemusical.eventclique.com

Disclaimer: The writer of this article has been in Singapore since 2004. He does not speak with authentic Singlish accent. Singapore is not his hometown. It is his home.

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Vincent’s take on the concerts/shows in 2014

This is backblog keeping. Just to record my personal take of the 2014 concerts/shows before it’s too late..

The Exceptional:
I attended many concerts/shows through the year. Most are good (e.g. many concerts by Singapore Symphony Orchestra ). Some are exceptional or much better than what I had expected.

The second night of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) in the Esplanade.
World class orchestra playing on form.

Orchestra of the Music Makers playing “Planets” in the Esplanade
This was my first time hearing “Planets” live. The orchestra simply out did themselves again. I really look forward to their Mahler symphony No.8 concert this year.

A Dream Like A Dream in Esplanade theater
This play changed the definition of a play to me, full stop.

Cameron Carpenter organ recital in Segerstrom Concert Hall, Orange County, CA, US.
Before the concert, the only thing I knew about him was his almost rebellious dress as an organist. However the way he talked about music in the concert was so sincere and way better than many other organists I heard.

The Disappointing:
Good or bad is subjective. But some are simply disappointing.

Facing Goya
Hype and hype before the start of the poor-line-upped, inaugural Singapore International Arts Festival (SIFA). The musicians from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra had actually done a good job. Unfortunately that’s not enough from saving a disappointing show.
This poorly staged opera tried so hard to present some idea that was much better presented a hundred times in novels, films, etc.. I really regret wasting my time in the otherwise lovely cozy newly renovated Victoria theater.

First night of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) at the Esplanade
The orchestra just sounded jet lag. An average form SSO would play better than the LSO on that night.

The Mixed Bag

Jordi Savall: Jerusalem
Great music making for sure. Exceptional programme and presentation. However, the use of loudspeaker killed the pure beauty of acoustic experience. Did the organizer know that the Esplanade concert hall is capable of producing a better experience?

The Ugly

Israel Philharmonic performing in Marina Bay Sands MasterCard Theatres.
Normally I would not comment on concerts I didn’t attend. But this one is out right kidding.
The organizer put an excellent orchestra into a good example of failed acoustic venue in a glittering shopping mall. What a waste! I am so glad I didn’t purchase myself a ticket to regret.

Classical recording shopping in Singapore

With the closing down of HMV@313 Someset, I no longer visit any local store for classical music recordings. Instead I now fully rely on online store for physical release, spotify for streaming and of course live concerts for the real thing. I’m not a fan for download.

Just to share my experience on shopping/collecting classical music. I purchase most of my recordings from following sites:

http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk

http://www.mdt.co.uk

http://www.jpc.de

The above three sites have the best shipping rate to Singapore.

Occasionally I would also buy from

http://www.amazon.com

http://www.ebay.com

For physical stores, you can also try shops in Adelphi, there are a few that carry oops release at reasonable price. These shops are serving towards the “audiophile” crowd. I seldom visit for classical new release.

Besides HMV@Marina Square (Update 2015, closed). The other surviving chain store is That CD shop.

http://highsociety.com.sg/wp/?page_id=51

In fact it was transformed to focus on cafe more than on CD. I haven’t tried their food. Maybe next time, as I guess their cafes have a much higher chance surviving than the CD outlets.

Physical recordings have become collection item rather than the main stream music carrier. Nothing wrong with it. You just need to know the trade off.

Update: That CD shop in Raffles City closed. Check their facebook for the latest branch info.

Spotify user report in Singapore

Have been using Spotify as my main streaming service for both classical and pop/rock/indie music for a while. Just like to share with you my experience here. And you can judge whether you wanna give it a try or even pay for it. I’m not going into discussion how spotfiy is paying the musicians here.

This report is based on both PC and Android versions.

Pros:
1. One of the biggest streaming provider, legal, free (at least for basic service).
2. PC version is totally user friendly.
3. The premium account charge of $10 per month is also reasonable. I’m assuming you would agree that one month of music streaming service should be more valuable than two cups of mediocre Starbucks coffee.

Cons:
Mobile version still lacks some key feature.
1. For free account, you can only shuffle play a playlist. If the playlist contains only a few tracks (e.g. a symphony), spotfiy will insert other tracks they think you would like (so far i find their recommendation pretty poor..)

Some smart guy would suggest use the skip button for this. The spotify guys are not dumb either. They set a 6 skips per hour rule on the free mobile account.

I know you’ll be really be pissed off when you were listening to some great rock, suddenly one of the “boring” Bach’s cantatas was inserted (this is purely fictional, I have not experienced classical inserted into pop/rock listening session. Btw, isn’t that a good way to raise the awareness of classical music?)
Vice vesa, when you were listening to the St. Matthew’s Passion, you will certainly be annoyed when some crap pop popped up.

2. Another key feature lacking in mobile app is that there is no way to find out which musicians you are following. Everytime you need to search the entire spotify database.

Update: this has been rectified in the latest version.

3. Apart from that, when data connection lost, you can’t playback the cached tracks you just listened. I find this more useful feature than having to preload the offline tracks.

Miscs:

Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis as encoding format, which is a fine choice. Even though it is not as great as what I would like to have DTS Headphone:X. (Disclaimer: I work for DTS.)

Another thing I really hope Spotify could do is to launch their premium service together with Singtel. Such that the data charge can be free or at least much more than the plan package quota. I feel my 3GB monthly quota not able to keep up if I were to use Spotify as my sole mobile music service. I know that would mean Singtel have to kill their own AMPed which I have yet heard a good report.

Before all these being fixed, I’ll be still paying my naxos.com subscription, they’re even cheaper than spotify and also cover a pretty wide repertoire for classical music.

Darkness in Light

Last Friday, I attended a concert by Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) in esplanade concert hall. The title of this post actually comes from the concert.

It is also the name of the violin concerto composed by Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund.

One interesting fact of the concert is that, this was the first time I heard both the conductor and soloist performed in the orchestra (besides conducting and playing as a soloist). Conductor Vanska played clarinet in the opening piece, while violinist Pekka Kuusisto joined in the violin section in the second half.

The concert openned with Dvorak’s Serenade in D minor, which is certainly not a standard piece in concert programme. In fact, this was the first time I heard it. It’s always good to hear some thing new. But to be honest, I find the color tone a bit strange. Most of the time, oboe was the only instrument on high register, and sounded floating out of the otherwise bass dominated ensemble (bassoon, horn, cello, double bass).

The Asian premiere of Fagerlund’s Violin Concerto turned out to be a rather interesting piece. I particular like the slow movement. There happens to be a great recording on youtube by Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the same soloist Friday, Pekka Kuusisto. You can find out yourself here.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMAkBHqnJ6A  part 2

The main attraction of the concert for me was Sibelius’ Symphony No.5 in the second half. Having heard both Vanska’s recordings with Lahti Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra on BIS label. I was eager to find out how it worked out with SSO. The performance sounded generally fine, apart from some minor late entry of section in the beginning. I would also like the woodwind sounded a bit “colder” or more distinct from the string section. This is Scandinavian music, right?
The audience broke into applause after the first movement. You can tell this applause was sincere rather than inappropriate.

On my way back home, I chatted with my friend in SSO who played in the concert just now. When I told him Vanska just resigned from Minnesota Orchestra, which has locked out its musicians and cancelled the entire 2012-2013 season and ongoing. His reply was rather simple and true: whenever economy worsen, arts suffer the first.

When most people had to make a choice between bread and music, the answer would be apparent. Even though I skipped my dinner for the concert, I have to make sure my family were well fed. I play my part in supporting the music community by purchasing music live or recorded, from rock/pop to classical. Over the past 10+ years, the money I spend on music can easily pay me a car, say Volkswagen Golf (not in Singapore with the current COE..). However most people today expect music to be free. Many artists were forced to become “entertainer” and many many f**king boring “artists” jumped on to the stage to “entertain” the mindless audience.

I guess I should stop here. This is Darkness in light, happening now in this world we’re living in. If you were not yet bored with what I wrote here, read on what happened to Minnesota Orchestra and listen to the swan song of the Minnesota Orchestra. I hope this never happen to the city where I choose to live.

The Good, the Bad, the Touching

Can you imagine i attended a concert featuring both Mozart’s concerto No.7 for three pianos and Gangnam style! ?
To be frank, i’m not a big fan of Mozart’s music. But Gangnam Style is simply a torture to my eyes and ears (the Korean high schools performers were not bad though, who did some other nice songs as well ). The later is a classic example of rubish played millions of times and becomes popular rubish. While the Mozart’s piece is not a popular one from the composer. i’m sure you will still hear it playing in the next century! i bless us all good health:)

Both works were part of the ChildAid 2012 concert held in Marina Bay Sands Grand Theater.
http://www.straitstimes.com/childaid
A concert for a good cause. i hope to hear it next year again! Here i’ll only give my two cents on the concert itself.

What i like
==============
The programe is creative. You don’t get to hear Mothership and Mozart’s concerto for three pianos, let alone in one single concert in Singapore. I really appreciate it. There are a few original music with quite high quality. The inclusion of songs from Queen to pop/rock 201X are well blended as well. In fact, i’m happily surprised that i actually can recognize all the pop/rock from 201X including “Rolling in the deep”.
The vocalists were all picked from various school in Singapore. They did sing very well.

What i don’t like
=====================
The Grand theater of Marina Sands is just sub bar compared to casino downstairs. Acoustic design is no where near Esplanade. The PA system was on for the whole concert, even for the full orchestra works. This is really the last you want for classical music. Sounds stage was completely destroyed. Balance problem made the strings masked for a few sections.
Orchestra of the Music Makers does not sound as good as their own concerts. I guess all the adult players were missing.
The lighting was dazzling, sometimes annoying with lights projecting direct to your eyes. Just imagined beam lights while driving on a dark highway.
One of the pianists in the Mozart’s looked as if she was dragged in this concert for wrong reason.
The programme booklet is oversized with poor design. The photo inside is just as bad as the Grand theater setting that night.

The Touching
================
I gave my standing ovation to the young autistic pianist playing a touching song written by his mother and sung by his relative. Check the video here

http://www.razor.tv/site/servlet/segment/main/news/85838.html
I didn’t see a single word in published concert reviews on this. Are they all stone hearted or stone ear?

Anyway, I look forward to the Childaid 2013 concert!