Monday, January 19, 2004

listening to a CD that alex left at my place: a recording of the Singapore Repertory Theatre's production Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress with Kit Chan singing the lead role. my parents saw that production over the summer -i was here- and were favourably impressed. at the time i read the email i was pleased that a local production -it's by dick lee, among other people- was doing fairly well. listening to it now, however, a bunch of things strike me.

kit chan has improved and just keeps on improving from the first time i heard her many many years ago. her voice has grown in strength and clarity and diction; it's really quite amazing. also, the music is fairly well written -in that there are no glaring compositional errors and so forth. it's encouraging that Forbidden City, which was a fairly large, expensive, well-organised production, exists at all in our local arts scene. and it is almost entirely local, yet another encouraging factor. but while we pat ourselves on the back we have to remember that this is the first step on a very long road to real musical/artistic acclaim and success. and this first step has a very familiar sound to it. we really don't want all 'asian' musicals to wind up sounding like Chang and Eng, do we? after all, not all western musicals sound like Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables.

but really that's all the good i have to say about it just listening to the cd. i have no doubts that if i were to see it staged i would probably take things differently, but the things bugging me about the cd are unlikely to change:

(1) the music is somehow just competent -- there are no compelling pieces that stick in your head, and it is somehow very...singaporean in sound [oh GOD, i just heard some kind of fake electronic instrument. bah.] . i'm willing to go as far as 'asian sounding' -perhaps it doesn't follow classical rules of composition or something, but it just sounds very...tinny, very thin, very unsatisfying. very reminiscent of late night variety shows on tv. or national day songs. the new kind, not the kind that involve standing up for singapore and counting on me, singapore. it reminds me of a ridiculous musical that the rgs GEP kids in my year did in sec one for history involving creative corny rewrites of familiar showtunes to fit the story of singapore's founding. i think i got to be farquhar or somesuch minor character.

(2) the singaporean accent sticks out so painfully in the singing. my conductor told us years ago that a singaporean choir is instantly distinguished -not necessarily in a good way- from the crowd by the quality [or lack thereof] of its vowels. and rushing of consonants and compression of syllables and mistaken emphasis on the wrong syllable. surprise surprise, all of the above appearing in the supporting cast. even in kit's singing, though that's probably the fault of the writing...the music forces her to do that. argh, the abbreviated vowels are killing me. now, no one can accuse me of being a snot when it comes to speaking with a singaporean accent -any of my american friends will happily vouch for the fact that i have one and i use it quite frequently, albeit not often to them since it is incomprehensible to them. but when i sing, i don't have use it because honestly, it doesn't work with music. english is a nasty enough language to sing in without additional mangling of the vowels. believe me.

yes, i'll be the first to admit i am a music-snob. especially when it comes to vocal music. but honestly. ouchies. and fake electronic music? another nono. BIG nono. ouchies.

-sigh-

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