What is opera and should we care?
You might have chanced upon Western and classical opera being sung at the Esplanade Concourse and wondered how that is even possible. After all, isn’t opera only performed in an aristocratic-looking theatre?
Well, that is a common misconception about opera, and Singapore-based Spot Pocket Opera Theatre wants to address it.
The Spot Pocket Opera Theatre has been performing in unconventional spaces such as hospitals, places of worship, heartlands, and even shopping districts. The group has its own musicians, performers, playwright, creatives and media team.
B-Side seeks out SPOT to ask more about its mission to break down barriers and reinforce the relevance of opera for today, and its upcoming production, Le 66.
How did Spot Pocket Opera Theatre come about and could you share with us the story behind the name?
The Spot Pocket Opera Theatre was originally launched as the Singapore Pocket Opera Theatre (a.k.a SPOT) back in 2016 over the ‘supper table’ one fateful night before the recent rebranding. A bunch of us, singers and musicians, shared our concerns and desires for the Western opera or classical scene in Singapore, and we realised that we were of one heart.
SPOT started because four Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts alumni shared a vision of advancing Western opera or classical music in Singapore in a way that makes it more fun, enjoyable and accessible to the general audience in a more theatrical way. We were tired of always hearing the same ‘stereotype’ over and over again — “Eee, opera or classical music is too chim (difficult) for me, I don’t understand it” etc.
With the desire to break barriers, we figured it would be to our advantage to bring opera or classical music out of the theatres and concert halls, and to the people instead, since there is already an inherent inertia for them to enter such places.
Bearing that in mind, the notion of mobility (being pocket-sized) and something that is easily accessed, entertaining and personal, the name Spot Pocket Opera Theatre was coined.
What is a general misconception about opera in Singapore? How are you trying to rectify that?
Many people in Singapore have a misguided impression of opera. They think it is something that is abstract, hard to understand, to the point of being boring and also meant for an ‘exclusive’ community. We beg to differ. Opera originated as a form of fun entertainment for the general masses back in the old days. It was based off society, people and their cultures. It is pretty much akin to our modern day ‘big-screens’.
SPOT endeavour, through our productions and outreach, to show the general public how enjoyable and easily understood opera can be! We use theatrical storytelling and include modern-day social cultures and contexts to help our audience better comprehend the performances. In short, we aim to make every performance ‘audience-centric’. It is our gift to them. After all, without them, there won’t be us.
Your opera group consists of your own creative team as well as performers. How do they all work together?
We are very blessed to have an extensive group of individuals working together. It has been an amazing journey working alongside the many different talents we have in the company. I believe we work well together because we all share the same vision. Open communication, trust and aiming for the ‘big-picture’ is something very important to us, and it sort of governs the way we work with one another. A lot of times you see members putting the production or work before self because we all want to put on a good show for our audience.
How do you start working on a new production?
We will usually start by ‘workshopping’ the new show to be produced or new repertoire to be performed and see if the idea is feasible.
SPOT will usually come together as a team to brainstorm and discuss ideas for a new project. Our artistic director Jeremy Koh will usually take the lead and work hand in hand with our music director Vincent Chen to see what is the best way forward. Once a rough idea is firmed up, it will then be opened to the team for more fine-tuning until the best possible outcome is achieved.
Tell us more about Le 66 and what we can look forward to in this production.
Presented fully in English and targeted at first-time opera goers, Le 66 is a comedy about how a misunderstanding over a lottery ticket results in a lesson learnt in the dangers of extravagance. It will be SPOT’s first official opera production and our way of advancing opera towards the frontlines of keeping the traditional art form fun, engaging and relevant for the modern-day audience!
Our creative team has worked hard in overhauling the story and language of the libretto (originally in French) into something more accessible and current for our local audience, while maintaining certain important traditional aspects such as the art of ‘bel canto’ singing and the use of unamplified live music. This is our way of striking a balance between modernising opera and staying true to the traditional art form.
Le 66 will be a socially relevant and engaging show filled with great music, beautiful singing, many laughs and thought-provoking moments. The audience might also have the opportunity to experience a particular segment of the show personally.