Wed, Feb 27, 2019 - Page 13 News List

‘A Million Miles Away’ hits home

The 11th Taiwan International Festival of Arts has gotten off to a strong start with an impressive new work by choreographer Huang Yi and the National Symphony Orchestra’s concert version of ‘Tosca’

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

‘TOSCA’

The National Symphony Orchestra’s (NSO, 國家交響樂團) concert version of Tosca at the National Concert Hall on Saturday night was a reminder of what I love and hate about Western opera: lush, soaring and soul-moving music, but awkward, often wooden acting and movement.

Far more so than theater and dance, opera requires its viewers to ignore physical reality, yet seeing an opera with singers who have not only the vocal and acting chops is possible.

The NSO billed this concert version of Tosca as a “pure musical experience,” meaning, I guess, that it wanted audiences to focus on the music and not be distracted by elaborate sets or costumes.

That is all well and good, but the cast still has to do some acting, and I found myself wishing that Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) founder Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), who directed the production, had been able to include some movement classes for the leads so they were not so stiff.

Lin had the unenviable task of having to find room for not only the orchestra, wonderfully conducted by Lu Shao-chia (呂紹嘉), on the concert hall’s stage, but for more than 70 members of the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus (台北愛樂合唱團) and the Taipei Philharmonic Children’s Chorus (台北愛樂兒童合唱團) for the Te Deum at the end of Act I.

It was a tight squeeze, but he managed it by having the chorus members portraying townspeople enter the hall through the auditorium doors and climb up two sets of side steps to the stage, while the church processional came down the hall’s right-hand aisle and then onto the stage.

He also used the narrow walkway in front of the hall’s massive pipe organ as a second platform, standing in for the parapets of the Castel Sant’Angelo, to great effect.

Saturday night’s cast was almost all Taiwanese: Lin Ling-hui (林玲慧) as Tosca, Ezio Kong (孔孝誠) as Cavaradossi, Julian Lo (羅俊穎) doubling as Angelotti and the jailer, Tang Fa-kai (湯發凱) as Spoletta and Chao Fang-hao (湯發凱) as the sacristan and Sciarrone. The sharkskin suit-clad Singaporean baritone Martin Ng (吳翰衛) was the exception.

Lin Ling-hui’s voice was in fine form and her performance of Vissi d’arte in Act II was really lovely, as was Kong in E lucevan le stele in Act III.

Ng is a solid singer, but not quite lecherous or malevolent enough in the role of Scarpia. I found myself wishing NSO would do more operas with a major role for a bass; I love Lo’s voice and he was more than able to hold his own in Act I against the orchestra and Kong, whereas Chao was sometimes overshadowed.

The same cast will perform when the NSO takes Tosca to the Pingtung Performing Arts Center on March 8 and the Jhongli Arts Center in Taoyuan on March 15.

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