At the heart of New Opera Singapore is a desire to demystify opera for Singapore audiences. “Our productions must be modern, innovative and relatable,” says Jeong Ae Ree, the chairman and artistic director, who also happens to be the singing teacher for many of the young performers. To this effect, her credo is honoured in this non-for-profit organization’s production of Die Fledermaus, the first staged work to open the intimately-scaled, sleek interior of the newly-renovated historic Victoria Theatre.

Die Fledermaus, composed by the Viennese waltz master, Johann Strauss II, was first performed in 1874 at the Theater an der Wien. The three act operetta is New Opera Singapore's third fully-staged work, following their inaugural production of L'elisir d'amore in 2012 and Dido and Aeneas in 2013. Directed by Kim Sook Young, the operetta's story couldn't be made any more appealing to the local audience, aided by Young and David Charles Tay’s clever dialogue which blended seamlessly with Schirmer's English edition. The adaption’s uniqueness, which includes a nutty use of Japanese, could undeniably be snapped up for use in any major opera house in Asia and beyond.

New Opera Singapore's <i>Die Fledermaus</i> © Eugene Soh
New Opera Singapore's Die Fledermaus
© Eugene Soh

A versatile set by Shin Ji-Won and Brian Yeong conveniently shifts from Eisenstein's modern split-level apartment in Act I, featuring an ornate grand piano, to the sleazy-looking establishment of Act II’s Club Fledermaus (Orlofsky’s party guest list is apparently replete with go-go girls and goggle-eyed businessmen) and finally to Act III's city jail, where the plot to avenge Eisenstein is unmasked. There's plenty of on-stage energy and comedic moments to savour, but a noticeable lashing of melodrama, a lack of fluidity in speech and infinitesimal pauses between characters delivering their lines diminished their good work. While the dialogue was occasionally lost and a little nervousness surfaced, it was in the music that the performers seemingly found comfort.

From the pit, conductor Chan Wei Shing swept the musical action along at a comfortable tempo, drawing clean tonal colour from the 34-strong members of the New Opera Singapore Orchestra, but the sound didn't expand with warmth often enough. The jaunty pot-pourri of an overture provided the opportunity to impress and, apart from some wobbly brass, the overall result was satisfactorily enticing. Strauss' sparkling music and waltz-work generally supported the performers creditably.

Apart from co-writing the dialogue, David Charles Tay was engaging and confident, depicting the womanising Gabriel Eisenstein, owner of a reputable local Singaporean theatre restaurant. Though thinner at the high notes, Tay exhibited a voice of delightful warmth and impressive projection. If writing and singing doesn’t seem enough to keep him busy, Tay also turned his energy to directing the competent young members of the New Opera Singapore Chorus, who filled the performance with tuneful vigour.

Unexpected surprise greeted the ears when the gravelly spoken voice of Teng Xiang Ting, as Rosalinde – Eisenstein’s wife and popular former singer at her husband’s theatre restaurant – transformed into a singing voice excelling in strong high notes and an elegant vibrato. Strangely, it was in the lower range where the voice and diction suffered. Equally bemusing was her Hungarian accent, employed while in the disguise of a Korean star at Orlofsky’s party at Club Fledermaus. But Ting’s strengths are evident and she is soon to embark on full-time music studies at Royal Northern College in the UK. Her development will be keenly watched in Singapore.

<i>Die Fledermaus</i> © Eugene Soh
Die Fledermaus
© Eugene Soh

As the housemaid and aspiring actress Adele, Moira Loh tickled the audience with an attractive and loveable performance. Loh’s sweet high notes and capable trills impressed but, like the majority of the cast, many of the lyrics were sung over without eliciting clarity. Park Jun Hyeok as the retributive Dr Falke, a Korean stage producer, stunned with one of the most broadly reverberant bass-baritone voices I’ve heard. In the trouser-role of Orlofsy, kimono-clad Son Yun A, flaunting her wealth and influence as a Japanese media mogul, was reassuringly robust. Other notable soloists included Shaun Lee as Alfred (Rosalinde’s former lover and a third-rate singer) and David Daehan Lee as Frank, the prison warden, who easily convinced that he was in on the secret to outsmart Eisenstein.

It was the special appearance by local television and stage personality, Patricia Mok, that had the locals enthralled, cutting her way into the performance between Acts II and III in a surprising stand-up comedy routine. Indefatigably slinking across the stage to soak up the laughs, she ran with mop in hand, acting as a stagehand, taking the part of Barbara, a jailer (Frosch in the original), and leading us into Act III. The routine somewhat hogged the night, but the idea was clever.

This exuberant young team adds sparkle to Singapore’s theatrical scene. Die Fledermaus is an operetta where champagne is king and the effervescence that champagne releases was apparent on this opening night occasion. If perhaps served at slightly the wrong temperature, it was certainly bubbly enough for light-hearted entertaining.

***11