‘Fences’. The story of Steven Lee and Nora Ibrahim, set in the 1960s era of political and racial tensions of Malaysia and Singapore. This opera which I attended the evening before was not only the World Premiere, but it also brought back memories to me; of the days when I was a student and was also a member of the NAFA Chamber Ensemble which was privileged to sing this at a testing session when the composer just wrote it. This World Premiere is basically the final product of 6 years of planning and waiting by John Sharpley. Six years ago, I remember it was titled ‘Fences of the Heart’. The music for the chorus is still the same, as same as what I can recall, and it is just as intensifying now as it was then. The audience can feel the tension of the situation just through the music.
For this performance, I could only say that more could had been achieved. One, the sounds between the singers and orchestra could be more balanced. Two, the prima donna’s English was inaudible. I could barely made out the words that she sang. Three, the non-presence of surtitles. Yes, the opera is in English however, there were parts that were simply incomprehensible; parts of the parents singing. It was a cacophony of sounds! Four, the projected images for the background scenes could had been more appropriate. Why was it that the background scene of the Lee family Singapore home a Chinese classical painting of mountains and houses? Could there not be no appropriate scenes to use to identify a Singapore scene? Five, the costumes. I can understand if there is a budget for the entire production hence the chorus members must provide their own costumes however, could they not be more attuned with the appropriate attire, especially for those acting as Malaysians? Could the ladies not had worn the baju kurung or the baju kebaya instead of the sarong kebaya? And why was it there was not a single non-Chinese costume worn among the Singaporean-acting cast members? Like, where was the presence of multi-racial and multi-cultural Singapore identity?
At the end of it, I left the theatre scratching my head in search of answers. I hope that a few productions later, I would be able to see a better performance and truly enjoy it.