Dear fellow tasters and opera lovers,
This special post is a continuation of my previous Opera Gala 2011 blabber which focuses more on the Gala Dinner rather than the most important part of the event, the performance itself. A retweet by Ananda Sukarlan, Indonesian world-renowned composer & pianist who happened to be one of the performer of the evening, and his mention of Shakespeare’s famous “music is the food of love” quote, had aroused my mind to write this belated review.
I take back my words that “I won’t go into the gala performance details here” and continue with this sentence, “After dinner, freshly brewed coffee and infused tea were served while the opera gala performance finally commenced.” Here it goes, some words from a fledging food blogger, a mere proletariat member of the opera society.
The Opera Gala 2011 program certainly listed several popular arias from what would be considered as the most-performed operas of all time. I saw some Rossini, Puccini, Bizet and Puccini, mixed with a Delibes, Strauss Junior, Monti, and if my eyes didn’t deceive me, an original composition by Indonesia’s own Ananda Sukarlan. Quite a promising repertoire!
Once the lights from the golden chandeliers dimmed and the members of Jakarta Concert Orchestra took their position on the stage and finished tuning, the Opera Gala opened with Giaochino Rossini’s William Tell Overture which is famous for its fast-paced finale depicting a charging horse-galloping cavalry, most often featured in popular culture to portray stallion-riding cowboys or a hero riding to the rescue. The execution of the overture led by Avip Priatna as JCO’s conductor was quite brilliant.
Then the parade of arias started, first by one of Indonesia’s foremost soprano, Binu D. Sukaman, performing a sweet shortened version of Quando Me’n Vo’ from Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème. More Puccini followed in a heart-wrenching rendition of Un Bel Dì Vedremo from the tragic Madame Butterfly opera, beautifully sung and interpreted by no less consistent Aning Katamsi.
The last Puccini for that night, and probably the most famous and one that I anticipated the most, was the male-sung aria Nessun Dorma from Turandot, nicely done by Indonesia’s leading tenor Christopher Abimanyu, still and always spotting his signature mustache and beard, although appearing a bit slimmer. However, Christopher Abimanyu’s voice for this performance was heard a bit subdued from my table, probably because it was at the farthest spot from the stage. My appreciating the song was also somewhat distracted by some “bule”-s and their courtesans sitting at the table in front of mine, busily ordering martinis and beers from the hotel’s bar.
The subsequent two songs were a break from Italian opera. Linda Sitinjak, another great Indonesian soprano performer for the evening’s gala, delightfully sang Mein Herr Marquee (also known as the Laughing Song), a cheerful number from Johann Strauss Junior’s operetta, Die Fledermaus. Then came what I would consider as one of the highlights of the evening, a harmonious collaboration by Binu and Aning on Sous le Dôme Épais (The Flower Duet), a widely-known duet for sopranos from Léo Delibes’ French-spoken Indian-storied Lakmé. I had goosebumps listening to this mesmerizing performance and apparently the audience agreed with me, judging from the thundering applause at the end of the enchanting duet.
Then it was back to Rossini, a great Italian opera composer and a predecessor to Verdi and Puccini. Guest Italian baritone, Massimo Di Stefano, gave a splendid playful act on Largo al Factotum, a tounge-twisting comical number from Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), popular for its repeated ‘Figaro’s part sang at allegro vivace tempo. The next piece was even more amusing when Binu Sukaman and Linda Sitinjak returned with a cheeky portrayal of two female felines flirting for a male hunky cat’s attention (well, I made that one up lol). The Duetto Buffo di due Gatti (The Two Cats Duet, actually a compilation of Rossini’s work from his Otello opera) was quite fascinating. It even instigated chuckles and laughter from the audience as both sopranos meowed each other, sometimes mischievously meowed back by Ananda Sukarlan who accompanied them on the piano.
Past Rossini, it was time for Ananda Sukarlan’s original composition, titled Fons Juventatis or translated as The Fountain of Youth, which turned out to be a special premiere performance for the Opera Gala 2011. The music was dynamic and lively, encompassing Balinese musical elements in its movements, yet imbued in a classic piano concerto setting. Quite a brave groundbreaking piece, if I may say. Although there were times when the orchestra couldn’t keep up with the almost presto tempo, the whole performance was quite enjoyable.
Travelling from Bali to Ceylon, my ears were then spoiled by the beautifully-sang tenor-baritone friendship duet, Au Fond du Temple Saint from Georges Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers). I would say that Christopher Abimanyu and Massimo Di Stefano graciously did justice to this sophisticated colorful Bizet. Still with Bizet but moving to Spain, it was Maestro Andrea Griminelli’s turn to dazzle the audience with his amazing flute play on Carmen Suite Fantasy. The piece started off with the original Carmen opera score but then decorations and, if I could use an opera word, coloraturas were spellbindingly incorporated into excerpts from the opera’s famous tunes. Before that performance, I never actually thought a flute could be played that way. His fingers were like invisibly flying with the wind instrument. Then again, it was no less of what would be expected from a world-acclaimed flutist’s performance, something I was fortunate enough to get a chance to witness.
Giuseppe Verdi is probably one of the greatest opera composers of all time, with his masterworks regularly played in opera houses around the world. Thus, I guess it was only befitting to save Verdi for last. First, the Batavia Madrigal Singers and JCO gave a decent performance of Va Pensiero, a chorus of the Hebrew slaves from the third act of Nabucco. This was followed by a passionate soprano trio, with Aning, Binu and Linda singing Violetta’s Sempre Libera from one of my favorite opera, La Traviata.
It was the last number on the program booklet, another Verdi finely enacted by double duet Aning-Christopher and Binu-Massimo. The quartet sang Bella Figlia d’ell Amore from Rigoletto, a polyphonic piece with overlapping lyrics depicting the hunchback jester Rigoletto’s attempt to make his daughter Gilda realize about the Duke of Mantua’s infidelity.
World flutist Andrea Griminelli gave another astounding performance with a flute version of Vittorio Monti’s gypsy-themed Czarda before all performers finally joined together on the stage for a Verdi encore. Libiamo Ne’ Lieti Calici from La Traviata was the last highlight of the fabulous evening. I would’ve lifted up my glass and sung along with the Brindisi, had there been some bubbly left in it.
Gosh, writing about music is so much harder than about food and I think I have written enough. I might have already mentioned this but the evening was probably one of the best I ever had in this uncultured Jakarta. The Opera Gala 2011 was truly a fabulous night to remember. It was a memorable milestone for opera in Indonesia and hopefully there will be many more opera galas in years to come. I can’t thank Indonesia Opera Society enough for making this happen and giving me a chance to take part in it. Bravo! Bravissima! Bravissimo!
“If music be the food of love, play on” — William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
PS: I couldn’t really take any good picture using my blackberry, for much better quality photos, do check out Indonesia Opera Society Facebook page.