• Wed
  • Sep 3, 2014
  • Updated: 1:12pm

Greatness comes from playing at home first

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am

Western opera, usually considered high culture, has much in common with football. Raw talent and training, individual risk-taking and close teamwork can - if all goes well - combine with passion and coaching to create a few hours of beauty, grace and power.

There's a lot of cheering at both; opera is perhaps the only art form in which booing is a long-standing tradition. And, these days, there are at least as many prima donnas (gender notwithstanding) on football pitches as in opera houses.

Hong Kong, it must be said, is neither Milan nor New York when it comes to opera, just as when it comes to football, it is neither Manchester nor Barcelona. Nor, in either case, is it ever likely to be.

But it is nevertheless nice to be able to root for the home team, especially when it succeeds beyond expectation.

Lo King-man's recent production of Madame Butterfly was everything I think local opera should be.

The four performances admittedly used two tenors, three sopranos and a pair of mezzos - no bad thing if one of the objectives is to develop talent, but it means that the performance I saw was not necessarily representative.

But, with the exception of an American tenor, everyone else was local.

It may sound like faint praise to say that the performance was competent, but surely that's a necessary first benchmark.

The company made good use of the relatively intimate space of City Hall; the smaller orchestra suited the mostly young voices, undisturbed by the simple yet effective staging. The home team did well. I have always liked soprano Yuki Ip Po-ching and it was a pleasure to hear her sing a major part for a change.

Isn't that what a local opera company is supposed to do? Give local singers a chance to sing major roles and give local audiences the chance to hear them.

Opera, especially in a smaller setting, is better when singers also act their parts, and Brian Montgomery was spot-on as the American consul, Sharpless.

Tenor Michael Wade Lee as the glamorous-yet-feckless American naval lieutenant Pinkerton was an import; but, again, he was what one hopes to hear in a performance of this kind: a young, personable singer who might just be going places.

Competent, yes, but with enough originality to make the performance distinct. And there were several nice touches - gestures and intonation - that gave the characters life beyond the notes they were singing.

The result was a performance that was honest and, above all, genuine.

When designing and funding local programmes in the arts, or for that matter in sports, it is worth recalling that bigger isn't always better, that management matters and that one can have very enjoyable performances without 'world-class' players or performers.

Indeed, one is unlikely to develop many world-class footballers or singers if there is no opportunity for them to develop their skills and perform locally.

Peter Gordon is a Hong Kong- based businessman, writer, editor and publisher

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