By Juliet Jacobs
Shamelessly blow your trumpet, and tell us about yourself.
I studied at the Trinity College of Music, in London. While at college, I fell in love with everything to do with vocal accompaniment. I love the voice, you see; the mix of vocal repertoire, music and words are, to me, the perfect marriage. I have worked with many singers, since.
After college, I stayed in London for many years, working and travelling around Europe. I came back to Malaysia in 1997, and got to know of all the local classical singers. I set up my own little performing arts group, Artists Platform, in 2003. I’ve been arranging many concerts, since.
How did you get involved in The Magic Flute?
I got to know Faridah Merican, Joe Hasham and Marge Chew while working on a YTL project at KLPac, back in 2005. They were impressed with what I did in the concert, and thought of me as the ideal candidate for this project.
The Magic Flute, one of the most well-loved pieces in Mozart’s body of work, is a Singspiel opera in two acts. We know that the KLPac iteration is doing it in a concert style. What more can you tell us about the performance?
Yes, we are performing the work as a concert, so that means there will be no acting, costumes or set. A narrator will guide the audience through the whole story, with the ensemble singing arias. On top of that, we will be projecting simple animations to visually enhance the whole story.
Tell us a bit about The Magic Flute‘s story.
Basically, it’s all about good versus evil, light versus darkness: the Queen of the Night, an evil power, has accused Sarastro, a wise priest, of kidnapping her daughter Pamina. She persuades a prince, Tamino, to help rescue Pamina from Sarastro’s temple. When Tamino learns the truth — after several trials — the Queen is defeated and vanishes from the surface of the earth.
What exactly do you do, as Music Director?
Basically, I have to decide on the music: what to retain and what to discard from Mozart’s original score. The music has to fit into the narrator’s script. In this particular production, I took the liberty of cutting out most of the recitative and ensemble elements, but retained the solo arias and a few ensembles that feature the Three Ladies.
Once the music is set, I start working with the singers, coaching and making their rendition of the music convincing. At the same time, I have to keep an eye on the orchestra, but for The Magic Flute I left most of the rehearsals to Brian Tan, the conductor and founder of the KLPac Sinfonietta.
What is it like, working with The Magic Flute gang? Anyone driving you mad?
It was fun, right from the very first day of rehearsals. I love working with singers, especially young and energetic ones. I think I was the one driving people mad, asking my singers to sing the same phrase, over and over again.
The performance features talented vocal performers like Peter Ong, Tan Sin Sim, Irma Lailatul Munira and Janet Lee. Tell us about some of the cast members’ eccentricities.
They are just a normal bunch of people, really. But as soon as they open their mouths and sing, they become different people.
What’s your view on the classical music scene in Malaysia?
We are still in our infancy, at this stage. There is so much space for musicians working here to grow and be creative. It’s quite exciting, really …
What’s your dream project, and who would be on your dream production team?
I consider every project of mine to be my dream project, and every team that I work with my dream team. I put my heart and soul into every single project that comes my way.
Tell us a funny story from a previous performance.
It will have to be something that happened to me, in Stockholm. I bought a pair of brand new leather shoes for a concert. While walking out from the wing to make my bow to the audience I slipped, half-way. I did a split on the concert platform!
I quickly picked myself up, sat at the piano, and played like nothing had happened.
What are you up to, next?
I will be going to ChengDu next, to work on a production of Tosca. At the same time, I’ll be working on this year’s Artists Platform Song Recital Series.
We hear you’re organising a series of European Art Song Recitals around the country, this year. Tell us more?
Yes, my next big project is to focus on the art song, a neglected genre here. It’s a rather challenging project for everyone, at this stage — for both the performer, as well as the audience. I’m hoping to bring this art form to a wider audience in Malaysia.
What’s irony to you?
A singer who is blessed with the voice of an angel, but who cannot read a single music note.
First Published: 21.03.2007 on Kakiseni