The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro) @ Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre 12-15 October 2017

Even if you’re not a fan of classical music or theatre, I’m sure you’ve heard of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro somewhere or other. Or at least, this famous tune:

Composed in 1786, The Marriage of Figaro is a comic opera in four acts that first premiered in Vienna. The opera was based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais and tells of how servants Figaro and Susanna struggle to get married while foiling the efforts of their philandering employer, Count Almaviva, to seduce Susanna.

Fun fact: Did you know that Marriage de Figaro was first banned in Vienna ? The Emperor apparently took a dislike to its risque (for that era anyway) and political content and wanted the Austrian Censor to ban it. Eventually, Mozart’s librettist Da Ponte (the guy who writes the lines/script in opera) managed to get approval for the operatic version (he did a few tweaks, such as changing Figaro’s speech about inherited nobility into an aria about unfaithful wives) and bam. Worldwide success – not just for that era, but for hundreds of years to come.

Now, Malaysian audiences can catch the play, as The Marriage of Figaro will be showing at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre from 12 til 15 October. Revolving around themes like fidelity and love, the story is sure to entertain the crowd with its meaningful messages and classic songs, coupled with comedic timing.

A sequel to another one of Beaumarchais’ works, the Barber of Seville, the story is set several years later and follows a ‘day of madness’ in the palace of Count Almaviva in Spain. Almaviva, formerly a romantic youth, is now a scheming, bullying lord. He is constantly trying to exercise his doit du seigneur (similar to the English prima noctie) – which is the right of a lord to bed a servant girl on her wedding night – on his head servant Figaro’s bride-to-be, Susanna, who is the Countess’ maid. He comes up with excuses to delay the wedding, So Figaro, Susanna and the Countess conspire to embarrass him and expose his scheming. He counters with his own plans, and so on and so forth – but will true love prevail and can the Count be brought back to his old noble ways?

Presented by the KL City Opera, the production features talented local performers such as Chi Hoe Mak as Count Almaviva, Ho Chi Mei as Susanna and Samuel Lim as Figaro, along with characters such as the Countess, Cherubino. Marcellina, Dr Bartolo and more. Music will be presented by the KL City Opera Orchestra Ensemble, the KL City Opera Chorus, and the children from the Opera for Kids workshop.

Tickets and info can be found at klpac.org.

 

Mud the Musical: The Story of Kuala Lumpur

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I went for the Escape the Fate concert in KL? Well, I was stuck in evening traffic in front of the old Panggung Bandaraya for a good half an hour, so there was plenty of time to look at the big MUD The Musical: The Story of Kuala Lumpur signs they had plastered all over the building. Turns out, the place houses the longest running musical in KL, which has been on for the past two years! How the actors don’t go crazy, singing the same songs every day, is beyond me. 😀

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Evelyn and I went to check it out over the weekend. The theatre is just next to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building facing Merdeka Square. Even if you’re not coming here for the musical, the building is a nice place to take photos. Opened in 1901 (making it well over a hundred years old!), its Mughal-inspired look features a unique carved facade, with brown bricks, white framed windows and a copper dome. Before it was converted into a performing arts centre, it was the first official administration office for the Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board. 

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The inside retains a European-colonial heritage, from the opulent chandelier to marble tiled floors ,  but with a distinctly local flavour. The stained glass windows, for example, have figures of Malay and Indian characters rather than the usual angels or saints. 
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Tickets are priced at RM50 for Malaysians, and RM80 for foreigners.

The theater is big and can easily seat up to 200 people. Sadly, during our visit, there were only 11 people .__.

Did a short video. Unlike other musicals, which prohibit photography and videography, they encourage it here so feel free to snap and take lots of pictures and vids! 🙂 (PS: 2021 edit: Apparently things have changed – my video on Youtube got a copyright strike from Enfiniti, the company that owns the production. Kind of a bummer that they said it was okay to film and upload, but then changed their policy later. Would have been nice to receive a message coz I would have taken it down, instead of getting a copyright strike immediately.) 

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The story is set in the 1880s, when Kuala Lumpur was nothing more than a small village. If you’re wondering about the title Mud, that’s because KL stands for ‘muddy confluence’ in Malay, being the central point where two rivers – Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang – converge together. Immigrant populations from all over Asia came with the promise of tin riches, and this is reflected in the diverse cast of characters.

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Mamat, Meng and Muthiah are the three central characters and childhood friends who came to KL in search of a better life. Through their tale, the audience is introduced to a host of other personalities, each with their own enduring stories. Mamat, newly married and expecting his first child, is the mail boy for the British administration, while Meng and Muthiah, who recently arrived from their villages, are searching for jobs. Muthiah, who was promised a job building the railway, searches in vain for ‘relatives’ whom he has paid a price for passage to KL.

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Meng, on the other hand, lands a job at the Ampang tin mine, run by a wealthy Chinese tycoon. But work is hard and troubles are afoot. The mines are dangerous, and they are raided often by rival factions as the Chinese triads in KL fight for power and influence.

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Meng and Mamat meet up again at the marketplace, where they find a disheveled looking Muthiah, adamant that his relatives will come to his rescue. Unable to face his friends, he runs away. Leaving him to cool his heels, Meng and Mamat adjourn to the village to celebrate the birth of Mamat’s child.

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The ‘kenduri’ scene, where all the characters gather for the celebration, gets points for audience interaction 🙂 They roped Evelyn and another member onto stage to ‘help’ out – Evelyn was given the task of stirring the communal wok 😀

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Meanwhile, Muthiah finds solace at a nearby temple. The backdrop, which first showed a stone statue of a goddess, eventually transformed into a real person and Muthiah starts dancing, seeking for spiritual guidance. This was one of my favourite parts of the show. Contemporary dance is difficult, but the actor who played Muthiah delivered it extremely well – fluid and full of expression. One could feel the character’s hopelessness and desperation in every movement.

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Tragedy strikes with The Great Fire of KL in 1881, where the entire town and its wooden houses was razed to the ground.

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Despondent villagers, resigned to their fate that they have lost their homes and belongings, the life they tried so hard to build.

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As if that wasn’t enough, later that same year, torrential rains caused a massive flooding in KL, resulting in more damage to property and crops.

The flooding scene (which I, unfortunately, didn’t manage to capture on video!) had a huge ‘wave’ crashing down onto the audience members – made from a large cloth tapestry that ran over the seats from one end of the hall to another. The effect was really good!

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At their wits end, the villagers almost pack up and leave… but of course, if they had, we wouldn’t have KL today, would we? 🙂 Persevering, they vow to continue rebuilding the town they have come to call home.

Credited with improving Kuala Lumpur is the British Resident, Frank Swettenham (Malaysia/then Malaya was under British rule, so the different states had an assigned BR, who oversaw stuff). After the flood and fire, he began the clean up of the streets, and stipulated that buildings should be made from brick and tile to make them less flammable. He also ordered wider streets to be built. This programme took about five years. The rich Chinese tycoon, Kapitan Yap Ah Loy, set up a brick industry to help rebuild KL, and the buildings were subsequently replaced with proper brick and tiles, but with Chinese carpentry and influences. This is why you’ll only find the eclectic ‘colonial shophouse’ architecture in Malaysia and Singapore.

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The final scene had the cast performing a very uplifting number dubbed Tomorrow Begins Today – dressed in costumes from all the different ethnic groups in Malaysia. They even had all of us go up on stage and dance the final number, before we took a group picture! 🙂

It was truly a fun and eye-opening experience, and I’m glad I went to check MUD out. The cast is excellent: from the way they perform, and how much heart and soul they put into it, you’d never guess this was probably their 502837 time performing. 🙂 The songs are good, although at times ,the dialogue and the Malaysian accent shines through, so some parts may be difficult to understand for foreign audiences not used to our local slang.

The props are also well done, like the cardboard ‘kampung house’ during the Kenduri scene, the umbrellas during the flooding scene, etc. Costumes are elaborately done and accurate.

It’s pretty sad that more people didn’t turn up for the show,despite it being a weekend. I bet there are some days where they only had one or two audience members (!) Such talent and quality should not be wasted. They really should look into better marketing, because prior to stumbling on the site while driving in KL, I had never heard of Mud KL.

The show runs twice daily at 3PM and 8.30PM. More info at mudkl.com

MUD KL : The Story of Kuala Lumpur

Panggung Bandaraya, Jalan Raja, Dataran Merdeka, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Phone: +603 2602 3335

Getting There 

By LRT: via Ampang or Kelana Jaya LRT line. Get off at Masjid Jamek station. The theatre is a 5min walk away.

Hop On Hop Off: Stop 17 at Dataran Merdeka

Driving: Parking at Dataran Merdeka Underground.

MPSJ International Cultural Festival 2015

I was quite disappointed that work didn’t let me off early on Mother’s Day. I ended up covering a cultural festival organised by the local council, with six international and local acts. Halfway through, my mum and dad even came around to join the festivities, so it was all good. 🙂 The acts were great as well! They should have given the event more exposure because only a small crowd turned up.

You can watch snippets of the performances in the video above.

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First up was the 24 Seasons Drum troupe (Malaysia), comprising students from a secondary school in the district. Their drum movements are based on the agricultural seasons according to the Chinese calendar, which divides the four seasons into another four subseasons.

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A traditional Pangut dance from Korea. The dancers were very skilled and the dance involved coordinating various body movements, from head to body, and arms and legs. There was a long white ribbon similar to those played in ribbon sport, attached to their hats, which they twirled in circular, hypnotic motions.

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From Malaysia, the dikir barat – sort of a Malay choir with a tukang karut (storyteller) who sings a story while the rest of them accompany him.

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Arpeggio Dance Group from Sri Lanka performing fast and complicated drum beats coupled with synchronised feet movements.

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I think my favourite performance of the night was the Taiko Drum from Japan. Literally translated to mean ‘big drum’, the performers are real life Zen-Buddhist monks. Starting off with chanting, the show slowly progressed into a full-fledged, extremely energetic drum performance. It was like going into a battlefield with our hearts racing and raring for action.

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Last but not least, the colourful Bhangra dance from Malaysia’s Punjabi community.

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Great initiative by the local council for having more cultural and art festivals like these!