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S'pore baritone delves deep into his passion
OPERA-LOVERS in Singapore last heard baritone Martin Ng sing the lead in Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman earlier this year, but his love and speciality is Italian opera, in which he has immersed himself for the past 11 years.
The former commercial litigation lawyer quit his job 11 years ago, at the age of 27, to enrol in opera vocal training at the State Conservatory of Verona in Italy - barely making the cut because he was considered a mature student.
"Thankfully, I had topped the entrance exam, which was why they considered admitting me, because the cut-off age is 26. Even then, I was only accepted because there were still spaces available," shares the 38-year-old.
It was a major move away from his legal career into an operatic one, and one that came possibly as a surprise to those around him.
Though he had always been interested in singing, and learnt the piano when he was young, he wasn't active in the music scene until after National Service (NS). "I didn't join choirs or choral groups in secondary school, and not even when I was at National University of Singapore ... I didn't really want to sing with other people," he quips.
The first live opera he saw was the Singapore Lyric Opera's (SLO) La Boheme, when he was an NSman. "And it made an indelible impression on me," says Ng. He started taking lessons from his mother's vocal coach which was when singing opera became an obsession, he confesses.
He also took leave to attend a few masterclasses overseas. "It was quite clear possibly to my father that I really wasn't into my legal career," he reminisces.
Ng went to the Verona conservatory because he specifically wanted to be trained by Taiwan-born soprano Chu Tai Li. "She was the one who advised me to learn opera in Italy, because I was considering going to New York. But she convinced me that there's no other place I can learn Italian opera than at the birthplace of the genre itself," he explains.
Throwing himself wholeheartedly into his new-found passion, Ng also took Italian language lessons for five years so that he would better understand the nuances of the language, besides the fact that it would be useful since he was going to study for six years at the conservatory.
"Because of my age, I was offered a two-year Masters course, but I wanted to study for as much and as long as possible."
Since he graduated five years ago, Ng has been singing professionally - besides teaching English when he's in Milan, to help pay the bills. He's sung a few lead roles with the SLO here. This year, he's performed twice in Taiwan and this would be his third performance in Singapore, after roles in Turandot and The Flying Dutchman.
Joining him is Singapore-trained, Germany-based soprano Li Jie and pianist Boris Kraljevic from Montenegro, who used to teach at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
The night's programme by the trio will feature excerpts from Verdi, Donizetti, Puccini, Ponchielli, Rachmaninov and Giordano.
Ng's personal passion is early 20th century verismo opera which is about realistic portrayal of the darker emotions, and not just bel canto, or beautiful singing.
Baritones might not be the poster boys of the opera world, a spot staked by tenors early on, but Ng might change that yet, with his award-winning voice and the fine figure he cuts on stage.
- Martin Ng: The Italian Baritone, Dec 17, 7.30pm at Sota Concert Hall. Tickets from www.peatix.com