In the lead-up to the Singapore Lyric Opera’s (SLO) Gala Concert which celebrates Nancy Yuen’s operatic career, I spoke to the soprano about her career and plans for SLO as artistic director.
What was your first encounter of opera, and is there a specific event
that made you decide to become a professional opera singer?
I have always enjoyed singing on stage since the age of 7. As for opera performance, my first encounter was when I was around 20 years old—I was invited to sing one of the principal roles in a short opera called Le Cinesi by Gluck to orchestral accompaniment, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Since then, I decided to pursue my interest in the most serious form by enrolling as a student at the Royal Academy of Music.
What are the challenges of being an opera singer today as compared to
when you first started out?
YouTube and the internet did not exist when I first started. We were all trained to attend as many performances as possible to watch the top artists at work, observe the intricacies of stage craft, and absorb the whole ambiance inside the theatre during the performance.
Nowadays, a lot of singers watch opera performances on the internet and listen to the electronic sound coming out of the computers and mobile phones. They end up paying more attention to the facial expressions of the singers rather than the artistry. Unfortunately, as technology progresses, development of live performing arts somehow suffers as people have a difference preference to watching theatrical performances.
If you can only pick three highlights of your 30-year career, what
would it be?
My debut performance which marked my transition from a student to being the prima donna in Madama Butterfly in 1988 with the Welsh National Opera. That was my biggest breakthrough.
Second, the standing ovation at the 4500-seater Royal Albert Hall in 2000, also as Madama Butterfly.
Another highlight was singing my first Wagnerian role as Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer in Singapore in 2016, which was tremendously thrilling.
Under your leadership, SLO has been an advocate of bringing opera to
the masses. Why do you think it is important for more people to
Opera is the most complete art form of theatrical experience, with music, drama, sets, costumes, and lighting. They all come together to bring the audience into intricate worlds created by the composers and librettists with the help of directors, conductors, and singers.
We all need a little escape to the imaginary world from time to time. What’s more rewarding than to live through the experience of someone else on stage, shown through music and drama, and sharing their passion while watching the tragedies or comedies unfold?
How did you go about planning the repertoire for this concert? Any
highlights that the audience should look out for?
All the music chosen in the concert are from operas I have performed over the years. Many of them are iconic pieces that have been performed many times all over the world. They include highlights from Madama Butterfly, La Traviata, Carmen and La Boheme. The audience are guaranteed for a real treat as they will know most of the tunes and stories.
Any big plans for SLO in the coming years?
SLO will continue the work to promote operas, mounting large-scale opera productions, and doing more and more outreach programmes.
Our SLO Leow Siak Fah Artists’ Training Programme is going from strength to strength. We currently have nine participants working regularly to bring opera to the public, and helping more people appreciate the art of opera.
Gala Concert 2018: A Pearl Celebration for Soprano Nancy Yuen will be held on 9 November 2018 at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Tickets from $40 via Sistic.