Look up! It's the Singing Balcony series taking opera to the masses

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 12 Jan 2019

Khairunissa performing an opera work at the recent Singing Balcony series last month. Photo: VerSeS

If you’re ever at the Zhongshan building in Jalan Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur, on a weekend, an operatic aria performed from the balcony of the highest floor there is the last thing you’d expect to hear.

Since last November, unassuming visitors to this three-storey independent arts hub have been treated to popular songs from operas and vibrant folk tunes. This is the Singing Balcony series, an initiative by VerSeS Music Ensembles (VerSeS) to take classical music to the masses. It is primarily run out of the Zhongshan building.

VerSes, formed in 2001, is a classical-based event company that specialises in classical performances, choral shows and outreach projects.

“I think there still exists a perception that classical vocal music is uptight, too rigid and hard to comprehend,” says Scott Woo, VerSeS’ founder and musical director.

“We hope to change classical music appreciation from an intimidating ‘formal dress code and go-to-concert-then-go-home’ experience to an accessible, relaxed performance atmosphere,” he points out.

The Kuching-born KL-based Woo, 40, and his team have produced four Singing Balcony sessions to date, taking on repertoire like Handel’s Tornami A Vagheggiar, Verdi’s Merce, Dilette Amiche (you probably heard the Maria Callas classic version) and even Mayila Variation, a Kazakh folk song.

Visitors to the Zhongshan on Jan 13 will have the chance to catch the Singing Balcony’s fifth session (the first for 2019). There will be three hourly slots, starting at 11.30am.

Tenor Tan Jong Hann and piano accompanist Alphonsus Sim will be performing the Italian favourite Non Ti Scordar Di Me, first recorded by Italian opera singer Beniamino Gigli in 1935, and Chinese-Tibetan folk song My Home, Sigetse.

The idea to organise the Singing Balcony came to Woo one fateful day when he was at Zhongshan.

“I felt that the space needed some live music and the building’s interesting architecture with the balcony space sparked the idea,” recalls Woo, who was also inspired by the street opera performers at Covent Garden in London.

This classical singing performance series has featured a line-up of singers and accompanists such as Khairunissa Diyana Md Noor, Wong Ming Li, Sim and Chow Yee Mun.

As part of the Singing Balcony’s outreach, informative posters and handouts are passed to the audience during the shows.

“They contain the singer’s profile, a brief write-up on the plot of the opera or the specific (opera) scene, the origin of the poems and texts and the context in which they were composed in if its an art or folk song,” explains Woo, who has performed with The National Choir of Malaysia.

Woo, a petroleum engineer by trade, recalls an elderly audience member at the Singing Balcony who said because of the “handouts and explanation, he felt even though it was just one song, he was actually ‘listening’ to the performance.”

The Singing Balcony

it is made up of three segments. The Opera Edition focuses on arias, My Song Book is about folk songs and Ensemble On The Block is a choral treat. Two more shows are scheduled next month.

The Singing Balcony Session #5 is on at the Zhongshan building, off Jalan Kampung Attap in Kuala Lumpur on Jan 13. Showtimes: 11.30am, 12.30pm and 1.30pm. Admission free. FB: VerSeS.PJ.

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