Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Quick Chat with Jeong Ae-Ree


In conjunction with New Opera Singapore's upcoming production of My Nights with Dido and My Days with Aeneas, the company's re-interpretation of Purcell's opera interspersed with songs by Britten and Ives, I have had a short Q&A with artistic director Jeong Ae-Ree as research for my monthly feature on Time Out Singapore. Alas there wasn't even room to include her comments, but thankfully they can be reproduced here:



The Mad Scene: Hi Ae Ree, thanks so much for helping me with this interview. Now that it’s been almost a year since the first opera production, how has the company grown in terms of experience? What lessons have you learnt since that production?

Ae-Ree: Getting stable, plus planning and working now is slightly faster than before as we have more experience. On the artistic side, yes, I believe our production quality is getting better too. But getting new audiences, breaking the old idea of opera is always a challenge. But for that, to build a fresh image, we are doing quite well with community and school concerts .

What we know, how it should be done, is not always matching with the reality due to the old image of western opera here and of course financial conditions; it is something that are working on too.

The Mad Scene: How did the decision to do Dido and Aeneas come about? It’s such a departure from the bel canto of L’elisir d’amore.

Ae-Ree: As I always say, it must suit our artists age-wise. I think this production suits our young performers very well. When we decide on a production, we always think first-and-foremost whether we have suitable artists for it.

The Mad Scene: How did the concept of an ‘alternative ending’ come about? How are the songs of Britten and Ives going to be inserted into the show?

Ae-Ree: That you will have to come and see, it was my idea to insert other composers’ work in between and our stage director will work on putting them onstage.

The Mad Scene: What kind of qualities does the team look for when conducting auditions? I noticed that the cast this time round is similar to the L’elisir production, what is it about this group of singers that set them apart during auditions?

Ae-Ree: I look for good quality voice with intelligent interpretation, expression, acting, personality. Opera singers have to be good in everything. And I look for someone who is open minded and cooperative to new or different ideas.

The Mad Scene: Are current plans for one opera production limited to a year? Any plans to go beyond?

Ae-Ree: Full opera production, yes, we have only one but we have 4 major productions a year, including opera comique series, song festival etc..

Besides that we have community and school concerts. For now we have quite a sizable amount of performances. Of course with time we will make the scale bigger but it will be like this for at least 2 more years.

The Mad Scene: Reviews for the L’elisir production criticized the use of electronic amplification, many feel that it was used too much. Why did the production team feel it was necessary at the time?

Ae-Ree: Whoever has been in the last venue of our opera will know that the place is not meant for opera or any acoustic kind of musical performance without amplification. Yes, it is not ideal,but if the acoustic is not good, yes, we will have to use some help. Just like using microphones in  outdoor concerts or in shopping mall concerts etc, it does not make sense if we don't use it. If we are performing in a good opera house or concert hall, why will we use microphones?

The Mad Scene: With a change in theatre, do you foresee such a necessity this time?

Ae-Ree: I have no idea yet. The SOTA venue personnel does not think the hall is suitable for opera, but what other choice do I have? I tried it a bit there but again the hall is empty. It is hard to tell how it will be with all the sets inside plus audience. We will have to try and see during full-dress rehearsals. I hope we can soon perform in theatres more suitable for opera, such as Victoria Theatre or the Esplanade.

The Mad Scene: Like the previous production, this upcoming production will also be staged in modern times. Is this a kind of signature look for the company, for all productions to be staged in modern times?

Ae-Ree: Yes! We are New Opera Singapore! :D

My Nights with Dido and My Days with Aeneas will be staged on 26 and 27 July 2013. Details available on the Events Page.

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