Thursday, March 30, 2006
Mana draMa?
Theatre n.

1. A building, room, or outdoor structure for the presentation of plays, films, or other dramatic performances.
2. Dramatic literature or its performance.
3. A place that is the setting for dramatic events.

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We just got back from M the Opera and i have a few thoughts swimming around in my head..just thought i'd get them out..

We went early and as i was sitting there staring at the stage curtain for a good 20 minutes, i thought about what was going on backstage. The bustle, primping, pratice, nerves, laughs.. and i missed it so so much. All we saw was the curtain but what a curtain it was - beyond it was, i imagined, more drama and more excitement than what we were about to witness on stage.. unfortunately, that day dream turned out to be something of a premonition by the end of the night.

It's not that it was bad cause it wasn't. But i can't say it was brilliant either. While you watch it, you have thoughts about it, but once you've left the hall, it all sort of slips away. I tried but i can't really remember the songs or the characters in detail. Just an impression of whatever made an impression. At this, just allow me to say that i'm by no means trying to critique the performance for everyone involved gave it their all and for that they ought to be commended. Rather, i'm just airing some opinions - seems i'm in a funny mood right now.

My first thoughts during the opening scene were "that's a lot of people on stage".. and indeed that would surface as a recurring bemusement throughout the performance. I have to say that i rather enjoyed all the "silhouettes" in M!. The graphic composition of people during these shadow scenes was a high point as was George Chan's performance as Kerabat the "other guy". Honestly, just about the only real "character" in the M! is Kerabat. His voice really stood out (gosh he sounds like the guy who sang Marius in Les Misarable when i saw it at West End), the only performer with true emotion. The random dancers that appeared sporadically throughout the show only made sense when they appeared along-side him. My favourite scenes were those where he was dancing and they were dancing almost as if as an extension of the immensity of his emotions. Kudos to him and to Judimar Monflis for cheoragraphy :)

Khir Rahman as title character M brought levels of jiwang-ness to the show that at times tempted to make it a little Era.fm-ish ;p , I loved it when Doreen Tang (Sepi) hit the true soprano notes clear and strong. There's nothing quite like hearing someone hit the mark well when it comes to operatic sop parts. Sadly though, i think all those performances must be taking a toll on the performers. Most of them (except George) sounded a tad strained and lacked the "power" needed to carry much of the music. Casting Khir and Doreen as love interests also struck me as looking quite pedophilic. Doesn't do much for chemistry really & when Kerabat came along, i just really wanted her (Sepi) to ditch M and run away with him. Would have been much more operatic and dramatic ;) .

And here's another question.. so.. opera, hmms.. Mana draMa? Given the poor diction (the mics could have been turned up higher), the absolute crap english subtitles (interestingly enough, the BM subtitles were very good, even taking on a beautiful "puisi"-like transalation at times), the dialect heavy Malay rantings ( you say wha...??) and the masses of people chaoticaly running around on stage, i didn't really get it. The first half was populated mainly by disjointed "montage scenes" and only during the second half does the story actually show signs of being a story. Up until the second half, i really didn't get the point of the whole thing.

The music though was quite intersting. I really did like some of the Malay songs better than the english ones (the "cemburu" one's nice). Not so much because of their tune but more for the specific lyrics written - i was reminded that Bahasa Melayu is a very beautiful language and as good paint in the hands of a great artist, it serves well to create poetic lyrical pieces that are endearing.

Costumes were fabulous. Set was more innovative less imaginative. For an opera, i expected more than plain colour-wash backdrops. Cheoragraphy was creative though at times not necessarily coordinated. The little Sepi was adorable! I didn't dig the M and Sepi love scenes, the unorganised chaos, generous dishing of irritating screechy parts, dancers appearing for no apparent reason and other useless scenes. Good scenes include the silhouttes, Kerabat scenes (especially the solo one with the dancers just before the wedding), the accapella bit when Sepi first wore the wedding dress, the entourage entrance for the wedding scenes, the ending scene of echoes and present-past flashbacks (up until the part she stared howling - yeah i didn't get the wolf thing either).

All in all, M! the Opera is an interesting addition to the Malaysian arts scene at the moment. Putting together an original work of this scale is quite a feat so give them a break - this is only the first time it's been attempted in this way. They will get better and when they do, it will be great. The potential is there but at present, the heart of the whole performance is lost. To me, M! the Opera is like a Faberge Egg - visually exquisite on the surface but when you open it up and look inside, it's... empty.

Just my two kupang's worth. Do go see it and decide for yourself :)
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