Kampung Spirit (2021)
Kampung Spirit was produced by the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO), through NAC's Arts in Your Neighbourhood Nov 2021 series.
Libretto by Sara Florian
Instrumentation (7): piano, 1 perc., strings (188.8.131.52.1)
Voices (5): soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, narrator
[8 characters, some singers may double roles]
TWO SISTERS, soprano & mezzo-soprano
ENCIK and MAKCIK, tenor & mezzo-soprano
TWO GRANDMOTHERS, soprano & mezzo-soprano
Set in the 1970s, the opera Kampung Spirit is about an imaginary kampung in Singapore, inspired by Liu Kang’s iconic oil on canvas "Life by the River" (1975), at the National Gallery Singapore. Through the fantasy of magic realism, a timeless Narrator makes the characters come to life. These characters relive the bygone days of simple kampung life that intertwined so closely with nature, by the river. The theme of ‘water’ starts and ends the opera, acting as a cathartic, unifying vector. Through the Narrator’s interwoven stories of the characters, who come to life as in a tableau vivant, one can perceive an Arcadian sense of nostalgia, but also a sense of hope for the future. Musically, the "New Nanyang Style" of composition paints the contrasts between the urgent rhythms and leisurely charm of these kampung characters, and pays homage to the colourful and bold brushstrokes of Liu Kang’s painting style.
After a stormy opening, TWO SISTERS bicker in their duet “Quick! Quick!”, where they are in such a rush, hurrying to break the news of a tiger devouring a man to their fellow villagers.
In “Encik's Pantun”, a charming ENCIK leisurely chit-chats with a MAKCIK on the boardwalk, as they sing about the beautiful union of culture and nature in the kampung: "a vivid kebaya enwraps our heritage, / as our cultures live in melodious marriage". The Narrator interweaves these vignettes, and speaks about what kampung life meant and what kampung spirit still means in our modern society.
As they are feeding ducks, TWO GRANDMOTHERS (who are in-laws) brag to each other about their respective son and daughter, singing a duet “My son is very good / my daughter is very good!”. Halfway through, they realise that they should instead praise each other’s child, and it ends in a cheerful celebration that their children are such a good couple. However, they recognise that, in the evolving landscape of cities, the future of the kampung is uncertain, especially for the younger generations.
In the sampan song "Fisherman's Pantun", the melancholic FISHERMAN reflects on his roots, his beloved kampung, as well as the rustic way of life – all of which are threatened by climate change and the practical necessity of modernisation.
In Singapore Lyric Opera’s (SLO) attempt to draw a connection between new Singaporean opera and the standard repertoire, the two episodes of Kampung Spirit end with Mozart's "Papageno and Papagena" and Offenbach's Barcarolle "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" respectively.
At the end, the Narrator brings all the characters together to look forward to a new dawn.