Orchestral music

HK Phil/Rizzi/Antonacci: Ravel, Berlioz etc.

Date: January 28, 2011
Location: The Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Hong Kong.

Together with the Hong Kong Philharmonic and soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, guest conductor Carlo Rizzi delivered a formidable all-French program: Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso, Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, Op. 7, and Debussy’s Images for the orchestra. Antonacci has recently made Les nuits her own, having sung the piece with Sir Colin Davis at Champs-Élysées, with Bruno Bartoletti in Parma, and with young superstar Tugan Sokhiev in Munich and Ferrara. The sultry timbre of Antonacci’s voice, her crisp vocal agility and her ability to secure low registers allow her to handle mezzo-like, technically daunting endeavors such as Les nuits with relative ease. But her performance tonight did not fit the bill: her timbre was somewhat banal and uninspiring, and her emotional colorings were the same whether she was singing about springtime love in Villanelle or a lover’s death in Sur les lagunes. Rizzi’s Images was not marginally better: all the notes were dutifully presented, but Rizzi’s rendition lacked the shade of “Frenchness” imprinted in Debussy’s works. Granted, Images carries geo-locational subtleties, but that Gallic absence seemed to betray Debussy’s mystical presence in his glittering, free-flowing passages. In a theme-less work such as Images, the lack of Debussy’s skeleton made the piece somewhat hollow and, to put it more bluntly, dragging to endure. The audience’s response was lukewarm, as much due to the fact that it was the Friday night before a long national holiday as it was a retort to the concert planners trying too hard to make possible an academically stimulating but hard-to-please program.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, in Hong Kong.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, with maestro Rizzi, in Hong Kong.

Pop, jazz and rap

Marsha N da Boyz

Date: January 27, 2011
Location: The Fringe Club, Hong Kong.

Marsha Yuan and a group of talented musicians dropped by The Fringe last night to take part in the City Festival, an urban cultural festival showcasing local talent through a diverse array of artistic activities. Yuan, a former beauty queen and a B-list actress who has since reinvented herself as a sultry vocalist, possessed an expressive and sensual voice, but had difficulty finding adequate vocal support and a proper breathing rhythm for much of the evening. As a veteran entertainer, she effused a commanding stage presence, wiggling and twisting her curvaceous body in sync with the music in a titillating manner, and reminded me of Jessica, Roger Rabbit’s confident and sassy female companion. Feigned eroticism aside, it was not Yuan, but the group of talented musicians, including Ted Lo on keyboards, Eugene Pao on guitar, Peter Scherr on bass and Jack Greminger on drums, who lured me to the Thursday late-evening show in the first place. Ted Lo’s unorthodox harmonic arrangement of some of the evening’s standard numbers, including Sway and Summertime, brought an edgy, almost wild, harmonic thesis and a provocative bass line. Pao dutifully performed, though his playing was as conservative as the average lounge musician trying not to appear terribly bored while playing that same improvised tune for the umpteenth time. I wish Pao would, as he most certainly could, venture more into the outskirts of atonal counterpoints, rather than relying on fast running blue scales and augmented fifths – two of his dependable albeit rather banal signature moves.

Marsha N da Boyz at The Fringe.

Marsha N da Boyz at The Fringe. Photo Credit: The Fringe Club.

Ballet and dance


Date: January 13, 2011
Location: Nine Theater, Beijing.

Salome, originally a French play by Oscar Wilde, has been reinterpreted as a modern dance drama by a group of talented Chinese artists and brought on stage for the first time this evening at Nine Theater in Beijing. Playwright Liu Jie (刘杰) faithfully structured a series of coherent, dreamscape-like scenes and executed change of scenes with fluidic care. Tan Shaoyuan (谭韶远), an exceptionally gifted visual and set designer, projected a plethora of imageries onto multiple scrims hung from the grid all over the stage. Some images were either highly stylized tape-recording of the stage performance (in rehearsal) or delayed projection of the cotemporaneous stage activity, as if to intensify the drama with both real and projected action. Costume designer He Xiaoxin (和晓欣) provided the dancers with a gamut of dresses and wearables that accentuated the body fluidity of the female dancers on the one hand and, let exposed the muscular masculinity of the male dancers on the other. Han Jing (韩婧), Liu Ye (刘叶) and Tang Yupei (唐瑜珮) were the dynamic trio of female dancers who each danced a significant solo representing Salome’s famous dance. The confluence of Han’s gymnastic athleticism, Liu’s sensual impulsiveness and Tang’s general fluidity supplied Salome with such a vivid stage spirit that Wilde’s morbid ending was merely a footnote to Salome’s eternal triumph. The only letdown was the lack of original music; other than a few sensual ballades, the score seemed to gravitate towards slow-stepped milonga music.

Salome (dance).

Salome (dance).

The dancers.