Thursday, February 26, 2009
For a change, the POST says something nice
Handel Opera Gala WAS CANDY FOR THE EAR
An all but perfect evening of music at the Thailand Science Museum
By: GOTFRIED K.
Published: 25/02/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Outlook
The Bangkok Opera recently presented the "Handel Opera Gala: Celebrating 250 Years" at both the Thailand Cultural Centre on Thursday night and the Thailand Science Park on Friday night last week. Both drew crowds - and rightly so.
The house where Handel lived.
The superb Siam Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Pairoj Ongkasing, did all the heavy lifting while heavyweights waited in the wings. On hand to help were the Orpheus Choir of Bangkok and the Tamnak Prathom Harp Centre, which brought a beautiful harpist and a marvellous lady to play it. All this under the direction of Somtow Sucharitkul, with help from "Thailand's wunderkind" Trisdee na Patalung.
Handel was born on February 23, 1685 - 250 years ago - the same year as J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti.
Somtow played the National Anthem on the double keyboard harpsichord, showing that it is an instrument of great versatility and not to be sniffed at. A moment of silence was then held to recall HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana (1923 to 2008) and her lasting contributions to the classical music scene in Thailand.
Somtow began the evening's festivities by making the claim that Handel was perhaps the greatest composer of them all. It was hard to argue when the music began to play. Handel, Somtow said, was the "master of the hook" - we might call it a riff. But it "hooked" you and pulled you in. Now as to whether Handel was the greatest composer of them all, some of us would nominate Chopin while others would go in the direction of Mozart. But Handel lived a long, full life, whereas Chopin and Mozart were dead before they hit 40. Beethoven must also be considered. While we could argue endless inches about who was the best composer, it was clear on that Friday evening at the Thailand Science Park - a very nice venue, by the way - Handel was the boss.
Handel is the epitome of Baroque. Think of Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Pink, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson. Excess, overdoing it - that's Baroque, our style. But it was the fashion at the time when Handel was born in Germany and he mastered it very well. He found his way to Italy after his father died, having refused to follow his father's orders to become a lawyer. Handel had always been fascinated by music and was not to be dissuaded. In 1710 he became Kapellmeister to George, Elector of Hanover, soon to be King George I of Great Britain. He settled there permanently in 1712, receiving a yearly sum of 200 from Queen Anne.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Somtow receives flowers while Trisdee na Patalung stands behind him.
That history was brought to life by talents like Asia's beloved operatic diva Nancy Yuen and her counterpart Derek Kwan, plus Sushleilagh Angpiroj, Pichaya Kemesingki, the endearing Potprecha Cholvijarn, who looked too young to legally drink, Lora Lund and Ryan Johnston.
Proceedings began with Solomon: Entrance of the Queen of Sheba. Trisdee played along on the harpsichord while simultaneously directing. The first solo of the evening was Derek Kwan, with Eun folle, e un vile affetto from Alcina. Kwan had a nice stage presence and the band really worked hard to make him shine. Sometimes too hard - at times he got a bit drowned out by the wall of sound washing over him.
Next was Potprecha Cholvijarn, who had the audience eating out of his hands. A tenor, Potprecha can hit high notes like you wouldn't believe. And he never gets overwhelmed by the band. He looked perfectly at ease up there and there's no doubt where this young man's future lies.
Then it was Let the bright Seraphim from Samson with soloist Zion Daoratanahong. She was confident, capable and had a great stage presence and beautiful smile. She duetted with a special horn player.
Ryan Johnston sang next, Si rea o ceppi from Berenice, Regina d'Egotto . Johnston had a good presence, was strong, didn't get lost or overwhelmed by the orchestra and handled his trills with aplomb. He was one of the few who sang without music in front of him.
We were treated then to another helping of Potprecha, who sang Onbra mai fu from Serse. If there was any doubt about his abilities, they were quickly put to rest. He had all the high notes in this song and never flinched. His pacing was perfect.
Those were the principles in the first half. Trisdee played the recorder at one point, and Pichaya Kemasingki sang two closing numbers. A bass of powerful proportions, he had to compete with a special horn - and didn't come off any worse for wear.
Nancy Yuen ended the first half with the heartfelt I Know That My Redeemer Liveth. She made it seem effortless. The chorus gathered at the end for a rousing finish.
The second half was a series of six songs take from the opera Giulio Cesare. The principals alternated with Nancy Yuen. And it ended with a rousing Hallelujah Chorus with the audience singing along. All went as planned and we got to hear Yuen sing V'Adoro pupille, Piangero and Da tempeste.
It's hard to attend these events and not marvel at how Thai people are taking to Western classical music, which is a decidedly acquired taste. But one is also saddened - that the government doesn't do more to help the arts and the artists, that there isn't more coverage of such events in our newspapers, that the truly talented are few and far between. Yet it is also a time of excitement, of new growth, new beginnings. The momentum is building. And every event like this Handel Gala builds on that momentum.
Talk after the show was about the venue - The Thailand Science Museum. I have it on good authority that shows may alternate between the Thailand Cultural Centre and the Thailand Science Museum, which is among a cluster of buildings including Nectec and NSTDA. It is certainly more convenient for those of us who live in the suburbs and the facilities seemed most congenial. I hope this plan becomes a reality.
As for the show, the sound quality was magnificent, the band was far more than capable, the harp added delightful touches here and there and the chorus and the principals really gave it their own. It was an all but perfect evening and the audience rewarded the players with a standing ovation.