For the Love of Music

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2011, 12:00am

For the Love of Music
Hong Kong Sinfonietta
HK City Hall Concert Hall
Reviewed: Jan 28

One good thing about the programming of this operatic pot-pourri was the easy flow from Italian grand opera to Viennese operetta to American stage musical, skirting the usual deferential nod to Mozart that would have been politically correct but artistically bumpy.

Hong Kong tenor Warren Mok and Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak played both to the gallery and to a gratifyingly full house; anything less would have been a short sell for this concert-hall equivalent of a Friday evening in front of the television with a box of chocolates.

The musical bonbons came thick and fast, mostly at full throttle and none the worse for being rid of the improbable storylines that give them context in full performance. Which isn't to say that the singers sacrificed finesse to vocal heroics: Cvilak's sotto voce utterances were masterly; Mok's coloration of vowels was fascinating; both singers produced ravishing tone well into their lower range. Being able to marry such technical control and an easy engagement with the audience was a winning formula.

The orchestra under Yip Wing-sie wasn't completely at ease accompanying the duo's rhythmically looser stretches, always a challenge if you're not a regular pit band, but they dispatched their solo spots with visible commitment; the Intermezzo from Puccini's Manon Lescaut was particularly telling.

The one fly in the ointment was Tonight, the duet from Bernstein's West Side Story. Insufficiently prepared, Mok had his eyes glued to the music and ears less fixed on the beat, coming adrift from the orchestra at one point. He soon earned redemption, however, with a limpid performance of the Chinese classic The Moon Represents My Heart, one of several encores that included Nessun Dorma, the celebrated tenor solo from Puccini's Turandot, which got transformed here into a sonic tsunami of a duet.