Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Malaysia - Heading Home

So, I’m sitting on a plane somewhere over Hungary on my way back from the Malaysia experience. How did it all go? Did I learn much? Was it worth taking opera to a country with very little interest in it?

Theatre isn’t a particularly prominent art form in Malaysia, and opera is hardly ever performed there. Shopping malls seem to be more of a development priority for the government than building a thriving arts community and scene. As an experimental tour, sounding out the scene, I think the Merry Opera and Gardner and Wife collaborated fantastically well to get the whole thing to happen and to take La Traviata to the people of Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh. I think people like our promoters are doing a great job trying to increase awareness of our western art forms in the East.

Audience figures, at between a third and half full must have been disappointing though, on a financial level, especially as the shows were well promoted. What WAS really positive however was the eclectic mix of people at the shows, from muslim Malay, to Chinese, to British and Antipodean expats. Many of them were experiencing opera for the first time, so even though the audience figures weren’t great, we were planting seeds for more opera in Malaysia in the future.

One can’t help wondering if a collaborative Carmen or Madam Butterfly (with local musical groups or choirs, and the Philharmonic orchestra) would be rather a big event in the future if someone chanced on it.

For us as performers, well, it was a marvellous tour. To be in a tropical country like Malaysia for three weeks, as autumn turned to winter in the UK was great. Like a combination holiday/tour/hang out with mates/foodie extravaganza. Oh yes! Some of the street food in Malaysia is quite exquisite. And there are a plethora of scrumptious Dim Sum to try as well.

Being on tour is always a mixed bag. You live in a hotel room, have breakfast together most mornings, then go off and do stuff like sightseeing on your own or in little groups, before convening at the theatre again in the evening and spending a lot of time in the backstage area together before and during the show (we all shared one large dressing room). So there are times when the camaraderie and fun is brilliant, contagious. And there are times when you just want to get away and have some peace.

Luckily, as a large portion of the tour was spent in KL, where we were resident at the lovely Boulevard Hotel with our own rooms, privacy was easy to find when we needed it. And if you felt like a drink after the show, there would always be a few people sitting outside in the pool/bar area enjoying a late night tipple.

I often wonder what it’s like for big rock bands who spend one or sometimes two years on the road non-stop though. I can see how it would begin to get trying after a long time, and why band members often come of tour numb and exhausted. It is a somewhat surreal existence, and you need to find ways to earth yourself, whether it is working out, yoga, going for a massage or finding a nice park to reconnect with nature.

Experience wise this will leave its footprint with some great memories. I got to sing in a country that few of my colleagues will ever get to sing in, and to sing the Germont/Violetta scene with two such talented sopranos as Claire Egan and Anna Jeruc-Kopec was, as ever, an absolute pleasure.

The stage crew and staff from Malaysia were never less than courteous and professional, and Natalie, who liased with us for Gardner and Wife, the promoters, was lovely and became a great friend of everyone in the company. She even got to come on stage in a cameo for a couple of the group scenes on the last night.

Watch out for a couple of new videos in the next couple of days about sights in KL and Ipoh. I will post them up on Youtube with a link from The Baritone too.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Malaysia tour day 19 - Lightning strikes

Our show on wednesday evening, when we got back from Ipoh and returned to PJ Live Arts, was cancelled at the last moment due to lightning hitting the theatre. That was a first for me!

Heavy rain and thunder are a feature of most days here. The morning and midday are sunny, and then the skies cloud over and the tropical rain hits. It is rainy season here (one of two). Some of the thunder storms have been quite dramatic; indeed just yesterday I watched from my hotel room window as a bolt of lightning hit the high rise block opposite, about 50 metres away, the roof being about level with my room.

I love thunder and lightning, and I love it to be as close overhead as possible. It probably ties in with my taste for the epic, loud and overblown which can be traced back to my heavy metal days.

Anyway, I'm warming up in the theatre on wednesday evening, as are several of my colleagues, when all of a sudden we hear a crash overhead from outside, and a second later, all the lights in the theatre go down and we are plunged into darkness. Within a few seconds the faint emergency lighting comes on so we can move around again.

Apparently the lightning hit the building and put out the substation. As the lights had still not come back on half and hour later, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing it was decided that the show would be cancelled and that people who had tickets would be able to attend one of the four remaining shows instead. Of course, it meant that a lot of people turned up and were told when they arrived, but the feeling I get is that people get far less irate about this sort of thing here than in Europe.

We all headed back to the hotel an hour or so later, and to be honest, it was quite nice as we were all a bit tired after trip to Ipoh on tuesday and wednesday morning's sightseeing there.

The following evening, yesterday, we were very well rested and did probably our best show of the tour so far!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Malaysia tour day 14 - Some fun with signs!

One thing that any world traveller will tell you is that the signs in non-european countries can be unintentionally funny and/or odd. It's all down to cultural mismatch, and no doubt they would find our signs strange too. When guidance is offered on things that fall outside our cultural norms or european common sense, they often seem quite bonkers to us.

Here are a few that I've encountered here in Malaysia in the last couple of weeks:

1. No snogging on the tube.

There is a plethora of prohibitory signs on Kuala Lumpur's modern public transport trains. The most amusing for us is no doubt the no-kissing sign. Coming to think of it, we could do with this on the tube in London too. There's nothing worse than trying to read a book on the way home on a saturday evening while the couple sitting opposite are eating each other's faces off.

2. No durians.

Durian is the legendary smelly fruit of Malaysia. As I mentioned in a previous post, the smell is rather noxious. This sign prohibiting durians was seen outside the lift at our hotel in Penang. Durians are often banned in hotels and public transport, but you often catch the odour of durian abuse in other places such as markets, malls and streets.

3. No stage-diving from toilets.

The floor in bathrooms can provide for rather a hard landing. Seriously though, this sign is telling people used to crouch-toilets (the hole in the floor ones!) not to get up and stand on the rim and attempt the same thing with a modern toilet. So, why does the figure on the left look primed for a jump from the high-diving board?

That's all for now. To finish off, here is a little video of random mini-reportages I've done in the last nine days or so. Enjoy!