Food, life, and fun in my "kampung,"(village), KL (Kuala Lumpur). Did I mention "food?"

M! The Opera

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

It's so easy to be negative. And perhaps for some of those who post on kakiseni.com, they feel it's clever, but I feel it defeats the purpose of CRITIQUE; especially when it's not even dignified with the inclusion of their own name. Which, to my mind, makes their opinions so much hot air.

It's a lot tougher to be constructive.

Antares wrote a brilliant review. Balanced, constructive, and he called it like he saw it. He was diplomatic, almost to a fault; but in this country, it's tough to know where to draw the line. Especially since the community is so small. Having said that, he was, I felt, compassionately honest.

My 2 cents...

Generally, I enjoyed the show.

I was awed by the creative energies that were so evident in the show. The amount of time, effort, and most especially, the talent that was poured into the show was nothing short of stupendous. It made me proud to sit and watch a show produced, created, and staged by fellow Malaysians that could be staged anywhere in the world.

That's not to say it would have been as kindly received! ;-) As we know the world's press is a lot less "forgiving" than our local establishments. And of course, sensationalistic negativism always sells more papers. Being bitchy is always seen as being so much more "clever" and witty.

The music on the whole displayed flashes of brilliance. Staging was really good. The cast, to a man, sang well. The mix of pop voices and operatic voices worked well. The costumes were, in short, fabulous!

My partner saw it twice. And he felt that the show was better the 2nd time around. Because of changes.

Therein lies my first problem.

Changes during the run?

A show of this magnitude should strive to be as consistent as possible, during the run. Changes during a run can only mean that the creative process, while certainly awe inspiring to a first time viewer of M! like myself, was allowed to run unfettered. At the beginning of a production, that is a good thing. But when you come to the actual staging of the show, it is not. Especially when you need to make sure the mass audience consumes a consistently high quality product.

In other words, the artistic has total control to the detriment of the commercial. There needs to be, I believe, a balance of both. With the slider bar moving from "art" to "commerce" closer to the date of performance. A certain discipline needs to be exercised to draw a line. It's not easy.

My second issue lay with the coherence of the Opera. The music was brilliant, if somewhat inaccessible during the more experimental bits. Some of the ballads were heart stoppingly beautiful. Saidah Rastam is indeed a composer of international stature.

However, a leitmotif to tie the entire opera would have made a huge difference.

As it was, I felt I was watching vignettes rather than a seamless Opera. The entire feel was choppy.

The use of recitatives to move the plot along interspersed with individual Arias (that's what they were) were classic Opera devices.

The libretto was at times, somewhat enigmatic. There were some deep metaphors which were being explored which meant that you really had to think about what you were watching. This may be culturally accurate. Malay plays I believe use metaphor a lot. But for an opera which aspires to the international stage AND to be a commercially viable piece, it can make it tough for the mass audience to understand. The question is, how do you make it subtle enough not to be sledgehammer obvious for a certain amount of sophistication, but not to shroud the whole thing in metaphor that too much thinking on the part of the audience is required?

Which brings me to my summary of M! The Opera. In general, I really liked it. On a cerebral level. There were flashes of absolute brilliance. The staging, music, costumes and performances were up there with almost anything I'd seen before.

But it wasn't something I felt in my gut. I did not step out of M! gushing. Nor did I come out hating a particular character, nor did I leave humming a particular tune. For all it's brilliance, a theme, a motif would have been the ribbon on the present.

Kudos to all the performers; George Chan (who stole the show from Khir Rahman, who himself was very very good) Doreen Tang, for her singing, performance, and obviously, her tireless efforts at portraying a muse. Cindy Yeap, Peter Ong, Timothy Ooi, Azean Irdawaty, Paula Malai Ali, Maizurah Hamzah, Mia Palencia, and the ensemble for delivering above and beyond the call of duty. Yes, I heard about the rehearsals! ;-)

But above all, Kudos to Saidah, the producers, Chako Vadaketh, the director, Jo Kukathas and everyone involved with the show.

I feel that with a certain amount of editing and judicious scoring M! The Opera could be a certifiable hit. It has all the right ingredients. Love, hate, jealousy, murder, remorse! Everything a good Opera needs.

I certainly hope the hoops and the hurdles won't stop this bunch of merry people from moving forward. M! The Opera, for all it's faults was a very big step in the right direction.