Concert Review, Life, Music

Purgatory: A Review

What: Purgatory by Gordon Crosse
When: October 27-November 5
Where: Theatre Practice Black Box Theatre (54 Waterloo Street)
Director: Eleanor Tan
Music Director: Aloysius Foong
Portrait Artist: Namiko Chan
Set Design: Grace Lin
Set Consultant: Chia Eucien
Boy: Peter Ong
Old man: Reuben Lai
Female Spirits: Ava Madon, Melissa Gan, Venytha Yoshiantini, Ethel Yap, Patricia Ginting, and Inch Chua

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“Purgatory” is a production that further proves Singapore’s opera scene has come of age and local creatives are capable of creating an engaging, sophisticated concert experience without “dumbing it down”.

Purgatory is the tale of an Old Man and his Boy, who have arrived at the abandoned ruins of a grand house for unknown reasons (…) The story is at first glance, a fairly inscrutable one. The Old Man’s grief and resentment are palpable from the start, yet his purpose for bringing the Boy to the site of his neglected childhood and tormented youth is uncertain until its horrific culmination suddenly arrives.” – Eleanor Tan (Director)

There are many good things going for this performance – from the pre-performance ritual with painter Namiko Chan, to the use of “immersive theatre”, adding of well-performed pre-show scenes (ghosts playing out their former lives?) and moving the audience from one location to another etc. certainly isn’t anything new to theatre/arts aficionados. Applying it on this opera at site-specific 54 Waterloo Street’s colourful shophouse-turned-Arts centre, adds a great deal of artistry and local flavour! Set, staging, lighting, choice of costumes etc. were excellent and the use of the wordless female chorus onstage provided an excellent balance and several goosebump moments to what could’ve been primarily, a bare duet between the Old Man and the Boy.

Not to say the drama was lacking between the two lead characters. Musically speaking, this is tenor Reuben Lai’s most meaty role to date. He performs with aplomb and brings to the stage a really special energy with his dramatic, dark presence. Peter Ong shone as well with his solid singing and excellent theatrical presence. The two had a fab onstage chemistry.

There was no orchestral pit in the acoustically dry 120-seater black box. The use of synthesisers in the instrumental chamber ensemble felt odd though it did provide a less-than-discrete padding to the overall sound texture. Balance wise, the percussion instruments, by virtue of its inherent character, were at some points, a little too loud and direct in the small hall despite the wonderful musicians’ efforts, sometimes overwhelming the other instruments.

The lugubrious slow start in the dramaturgy and music could afford to be better paced though to build and sustain intensity from the get-go. The instrumental ensemble played a key role in creating the dark, atonal atmosphere… kudos to the musicians and music director Aloysius Foong for holding together, what is evidently a very difficult piece of music.

Singaporeans’ colonized mindsets sees many paying top dollar to hear foreign music ensembles at high prices… what’s stopping us from paying a fraction of that to support local talents that are just as solid and in increasingly numerous cases, better than our foreign counterparts? L’Arietta’s “Purgatory” is innovative, edgy and sophisticated. Thank you L’Arietta for continuing to have faith in the local audience.

Albert Tay is a Singaporean composerconductor who enjoys attending and reviewingarts eventswhen he’s not caveman-ing composing orbabysitting two young children.