John Gee watched as “The Flying Dutchman” chorus sang in public at one of Singapore’s top shopping malls.
A month before the first Singapore performance of “The Flying Dutchman”, shoppers at the Ion building on Orchard Road, Singapore’s top shopping area, had a surprise foretaste of the opera. On Saturday, 24 September, after months of weekly rehearsals, the chorus was out in force to perform two pieces from the work.
The chorus members gathered on the fourth floor of the Ion building for a first performance at 4.30, watched by family members, RWA(S) members and curious passers-by. The place was quite noisy with the voices of shoppers, but if the chorus members found that daunting, they certainly didn’t show it.
Chorus master Albert Tay was on hand to introduce each of the songs. The women of the choir led off with the spinning song from “The Flying Dutchman”, sung by the village women as they work together while awaiting the return of their menfolk. It is a light and cheerful piece, quite in keeping with the sort of songs women engaged in repetitive tasks did traditionally sing together.
This was followed by the sequence that begins with the returned sailors singing as they celebrate with the women (“Steuermann! Lass die Wacht!”).
The mood of revelry changes as the women call on the crew of the Dutchman’s ship to join them, but – at first – no answer comes from the strange vessel.
At this point, the chorus broke off and Albert stepped forward to say that, to find out what happens next, listeners should come to a performance in October.
“It’s a bit of a cliff-hanger, like in a Korean drama,” he says, but hints that the Dutchman’s crew is ghostly, “and Asians love a ghost story.”
The choir acquitted themselves well, singing beautifully and making themselves heard, despite the hubbub in this big shopping mall.
They repeated the performance at 6.15, but this time, with one difference: they walked through the fourth floor of the building, singing the spinning song, until they reached the performance area.
Afterwards, I spoke with a few of the chorus members.
Nathalie, who is French, says that rehearsing with the chorus has been “really fun” and she’s looking forward to what comes next.
“Now the staging is going to start, on Tuesday. We’re going to do everything we’ve learnt with movement. We’ve done a lot of rehearsing and we’ve been working on our German pronunciation: this will be the first time of singing in German for most of the chorus.”
As Albert mentioned in his introduction, this won’t present problems of understanding for audiences at the Victoria Theatre: “There will be English and Chinese surtitles”.
Derrick Kam said that he was definitely enjoying working on “The Flying Dutchman”.
“It’s different from anything I’ve sung before. It says so much in so few words. It is a challenge to learn something in another language, but it is fascinating to see how people express the same things, the same feelings, in different languages.
(Story by John Gee, photography by Ngiap Heng Tan)