By Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 28 June 2019

Way back in August 1984 after we had gone to watch the New York Metropolitan Opera perform ‘La Traviata’ in Kuala Lumpur, I wrote:

“(La Traviata) seemed like an intergalactic visit by a celestial star ship upon our native landscape…” (NST, 7.8.1984)

How gratifying after thirty-five years to finally watch our very own home-grown Kuala Lumpur City Opera perform ‘La Traviata’, the ever-popular Italian opera dedicated to love. Not only that, they were supported by the more than competent KL City Opera Chorus and Orchestra, making it an even richer experience than the 1984 opera.

And how wonderful to witness my former colleague at the Dong Jiao Zong campus, Ang Mei Foong blossom into one of Malaysia’s outstanding sopranos. Her leading role as Violetta showcased her stunning vocal dexterity and quality that was breath-taking even for us who have watched almost all her previous performances. Equally impressive were Tan Chee Shen as Alfredo and Aw Yeow Hoay as Giorgio. We have not had the opportunity to watch the double cast for these roles but from what we have seen, we are confident that they are just as good.

Yes, KL City Opera is home-grown, yet from the programme notes, it is clear that they have not received much in the way of state sponsorship: Their patron is the Embassy of Italy while their sponsors and supporters are mainly from the private sector and media.

Thus, as we hear the rancour over missed opportunities in the matriculation quotas and scholarships among Non-Bumiputeras for STEM courses, spare a thought for our musicians who have made our country proud through hard work and struggles, often unbeknown to the rest of the country. Ang Mei Foong for one, was a graduate from Kuen Cheng Independent Chinese Secondary School whose Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) is still not recognised by our country even though it is recognised by practically every other country in the world! She went on to train at the National Taiwan Normal University, Conservatorio di Musica Cecilia and the University of Melbourne. She was a multiple awards and scholarships winner in these foreign countries. In 2018, she was bestowed the Order of Star of Italy, with the conferment of knighthood.  

Through the years, our country has produced so many illustrious operatic performers who have used their own resources to train in Italy and other European centres. Some have left us without the recognition they so richly deserve. Thus, while it was an encouraging start that the state has now provided a monthly stipend to several of our writers, it is time we also think about nurturing our local talents in the operatic and classical music field. And while we applaud our own home-grown KL City Opera for offering such a scrumptious ‘La Traviata’, let us hope to see state sponsorship in their future undertakings.

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