Dazzled by the Opera House's opening show

After the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House was officially declared open by His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, the Sultan of Johor on Jan 19, His Majesty along with Her Majesty Raja Zarith Sofia Binti Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah, members of the Johor royal family, VIPs and invited guests, had the pleasure of enjoying a gala Opening Show in JB’s first opera house.

Song of Prosperity by the Ning Xia Performing Arts Group
It’s programme, specially curated with a variety of performances of music, dance and percussion, acrobatics and Peking opera accompanied by multimedia interaction was dubbed, Dazzling Marina Night with The Stars, with two shows planned for Jan 19 and 20.

In the afternoon of the official opening day, I was among media guests at the opera house for an Exclusive Media Preview of the Opening Ceremony Show and was thrilled to experience and enjoy several acts, presented in a brief rehearsal.

The opening act in the programme was a dance by the Ning Xia Performing Arts Group entitled, Golden Soup Bottles, that featured graceful dancers that portrayed the purity of the ethnic Hui people.

My invitation was for the second day of the show
I was delighted with the solo performance by tenor, Ding Yi and his interpretation of Nessum Dorma, an aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot and one of the best-known tenor arias in opera.

A closer look at the two Programmes for Jan 19 and 20 revealed that only three of the artistes from the first day’s show will repeat their performances on the second day.

And because Ding Yi was not among them, I was grateful for the privilege of the Media Preview for a taste of the talent curated in the programme for the Opening Show.

With a host of distinguished guests at its official opening, the opera house was filled to its capacity for the Opening Show, so my invitation was for the second day of the show.

Percussionist, Tian Yuan, performing Chinese Hero
It was still a pleasure to be among the guests on day two of the Dazzling Marina Night with The Stars show and the programme kicked off with a lively dance performed by the Ning Xia Performing Arts Group entitled, Song of Prosperity.

With Chinese New Year just around the corner, this dance aptly depicted the joy of the season with dancers dressed in Red and Gold colours, holding miniature “lion” heads in an animated portrayal of the lion dance during the Spring festival.

Later these dancers appeared in the programme again to perform several dances like, As-salamu, Flowers and Flowers and the graceful, Golden Soup Bottles.

The Ink Dance performed by Sun Fubo using water sleeves!
Chinese Hero was a solo performance by Tian Yuan, a percussionist from the Central Folk Youth Song and Dance Troupe.

She is a chief timpanist and graduate of the Chinese Folk Music from the China Music Academy and member of the Council of Folk Percussions in the China Folk Symphony Association.

This act was an unconventional performance that combined percussion with Chinese classical dance that featured traditional water sleeves in the Ink Dance performed by Sun Fubo, an award-winning lead performer of musical dramas in China.

Soloist playing the pipa
I liked how the interactive multimedia screen in the background enhanced this performance with bursts of “ink” that spread across the enchanting backdrop as the female percussionist drummed with passion and the male dancer danced with energy, full of emotion expressed by his eloquent water sleeves…

Chinese musical instruments have a charm all its own and the pipa or lute, a traditional stringed instrument, reminded me of our traditional gambus.

The pipa was however, held upright with its base on the lap while the soloist played two songs in two different genres.

The plucking and strumming of the first song entitled, Liuyang River, gave listeners a picturesque scene of flowing water in a peaceful, charming garden.

In stark contrast, the strumming in the next song entitled, Ambush From Ten Sides, that exemplified mounting excitement, reminded me of Chinese classic period dramas (that grandma used to enjoy!) and made me imagine that the enemy was fast approaching and the heroes had to fight and flee…

Soloist playing the erhu
Another impressive performance was by a soloist who played two songs on the erhu, a two-stringed instrument played with a bow, like a fiddle or violin, but held upright with its base resting on the lap while the bow was pushed and pulled across the strings.

The soloist played folk tunes entitled, The Grapes Are Ripe and New Horse Racing to a backdrop of illustrations that reflected the theme of these songs.

At the end of the latter song, the audience responded with cheers when the soloist skillfully created the sound of a horse’s neigh with his erhu!

Ballet On the Shoulder:
The Oriental Swan
The best of both worlds was showcased in the much-anticipated acrobatic act dubbed, Ballet On the Shoulder: The Oriental Swan, a performance which won the Golden Clown Award at the 26th International Monte-Carlo Circus Festival.

I’ve often watched Chinese acrobatics on television, but it was amazing and awe-inspiring to watch these competent artistes combine the elegance of ballet with Chinese acrobatics in a whole new, sensually exciting visual where acrobatics became refined and romantic.

From the act’s title the audience knew that the skillful ballerina would end up standing on tip-toe on the shoulder of the strong acrobat but watching the live performance was simply spellbinding!

As if standing on his shoulder on her single toe and doing a 180-degree turn was not enough, the graceful ballerina stunned the audience when she stood on the acrobat’s head also on her single toe!

By this time, the audience was totally hyped up for the highly anticipated final solo performance by award-winning HongKong singer, television host and actor, Hacken Lee.

Smartphones up to video and photograph Hacken Lee!
I watched with fascination as the audience welcomed him with loud applause while many whipped out their smartphones to video or capture photographs of their idol!

After performing the first song, Red Sun, Lee interacted with the audience, asking in jest if he should speak in Mandarin or Cantonese, and they spontaneously responded with shouts in Cantonese phrases!

This act was only for a few minutes but to his ardent fans, it was like his concert when they turned on the lights in their smartphones, waved the lights in time with the catchy tune and even joined him to sing the familiar chorus while he sang, The Crescent Moon.

Hacken Lee entertaining his fans in Johor Baru
From the audience reactions and their satisfied smiles, the two-day Dazzling Marina Night with The Stars show presented at the official opening of the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House was indeed a resounding success.

As I leave the opera house, my thoughts were on the China Performing Arts Agency (CPAA), the team who manages the opera house, hopeful that they will carry out their commitment in making this destination an art and cultural hub that effectively promotes the performing arts in JB.

I’m looking forward to an exciting calendar of local and international performing arts events lined up for the year. Mmm…I wonder what would be showcased next?

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