5 Minutes With... Nancy Yuen, Soprano For Singapore Lyric Opera’s Aida

Art & Design

May 23, 2018 | BY Hashirin Nurin Hashimi

Whether it is through her titular role in Singapore Lyric Opera’s Aida or discovering young operatic talents, the soprano is going all out to expose more people to the art form

She may have sung the role of Aida twice—with the Dublin Opera and the Kentish Opera in the UK—but every production is a new experience for soprano Nancy Yuen. She will once again take on the titular role in Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, which will be staged for the first time by the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) from June 1 to 6, at the Esplanade Theatre.

For Yuen, what keeps it interesting is “working with new colleagues whom I haven’t worked with before”, such as South Korean soprano Jee‑Hye Han who shares the role of Aida with her, as well as a number of young singers from Singapore. They were discovered from the SLO‑Leow Siak Fah Artists Training Programme (named after SLO’s late founding chairman) and the Asean Vocal Competition, two initiatives Yuen has spearheaded since she took on the role of artistic director of SLO in 2015, to further its objective of advocating, developing and nurturing the opera scene and talent in Singapore.

This was also the reason why SLO decided it was time to stage Verdi’s epic, which is helmed by Australia-born veteran opera director Andrew Sinclair. Yuen explains, “Verdi wrote the ‘pop’ music of his time and his tunes were all hauntingly mesmerising; Aida was no exception. By presenting one of the world’s most popular operas, SLO hopes to reach out to audiences both young and old, in Singapore and the region.”

Yuen tells us about her role in both the production and in developing young operatic talents and the opera audience in Singapore.

How do you relate to the character of Aida?
Nancy Yuen (NY) Aida is a strong woman who dares to love a man from the enemy camp, and yet in the end, she betrays her love in order to save her country. I can only use my imagination to live her life as a slave and as a daughter caught in a dangerous situation. The opera is about love—love between man and woman (Radamès and Aida), love between father and daughter (Amonasro and Aida), and unrequited love (Amneris and Radamès). They are all caught in the conflicts of war. In real life, we experience love of all kinds every day; and there are still wars going on in the world today.

An earlier staging in Singapore saw a cast of hundreds, with elephants and pyramids during the iconic Triumphal March. What can we expect from this staging?
NY This is the first time in Singapore that this grand opera is staged in the theatre. Previously, it was done in a stadium setting, which had a very different layout. With SLO’s staging, audiences are seated in closer proximity to the stage and they can feel the incredible tension of the story and between the characters through the melding of captivating music, stunning choreography, beautiful costumes and atmospheric lighting.

(Related: 6 Artists From Myanmar You Should Know)

Tell us about the young singers discovered by SLO.
NY One of the winners of the Asean Vocal Competition is Alvin Tan, who is singing the role of Ramfis. Jack Sun, who plays the Pharaoh, and Cherie Tse, who is the High Priestess, are both from the SLO-Leow Siak Fah Artists Training Programme. We currently have six singers, each with their own unique talents. They will take part in masterclasses conducted by our international guest artists, and perform in a number of our concerts, including Opera in the Park and our gala concerts.

How else is SLO exposing more people to Western opera?
NY More opera companies of various sizes are presenting works of different genres, and Singaporeans are more aware of this art form. We have graduates from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music who majored in voice, and some have furthered their studies abroad and returned, creating a bigger pool of Western opera singers. They are participating in some of our activities or initiating their own small projects to capture a wider audience. On our part, SLO hopes to bring operas to the heartlands and share this beautiful music with people of all ages and backgrounds. 

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