Ditching the getai glitz

Hao Hao will be performing a mix of Hokkien and Chinese songs, as well as xinyao (Singapore songs), with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra in May. Hao Hao has been singing since he was 13.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Getai star Hao Hao will swop his signature glitzy outfits for a bespoke suit in May.

The Singapore-based Taiwanese singer and host is singing for the first time with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) in a special Mother's Day concert at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre on May 12 and 13.

The 36-year-old, who usually takes the stage in costumes emblazoned with feathers, sequins and glitter or all three, says in Mandarin: "I don't want to look too outrageous.

"I must match the orchestra so I can't wear anything too 'bling bling'. Hopefully, my fans know the occasion is a more formal one and will accept this."

He will be joined at the concert by local getai singer Lee Pei Fen, who performed at the orchestra's 2014 concert.

Under the baton of SCO resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong, they will be performing a mix of Hokkien and Chinese songs as well as xinyao, a genre of locally composed Chinese songs.

They will duet on songs such as Dull Ice Flower (Lu Bing Hua) and New Clothes Are Not As Good As Old Clothes (Xin Yi Na You Jiu Yi Hao).

Audiences can also look forward to his signature technique of singing in both male and female voices during his rendition of love song Cold River Snow (Han Jiang Xue).

He says: "I've sung this song before for a television contest, but I have always felt it deserves full orchestral backing. I'm glad to get the chance to do it properly this time."

SCO music director Yeh Tsung, 66, says that by collaborating with popular singers such as Hao Hao, the orchestra hopes to reach a wider audience.

"We want to invite artists whom the average Singaporean can relate to and have a musical dialogue with them," he says over the phone from Indiana in the United States, where he conducted two holiday concerts.

"We are not just repeating old songs, but also enriching them with a new symphonic texture, which will make the audience feel that - wow - we are giving these old favourites new life."

The SCO will be on the move this year from this month to June as its home, the Singapore Conference Hall, is being renovated.

The orchestra will perform at concert venues across Singapore - not unlike Hao Hao's practice during the getai circuit of the Hungry Ghost Festival in the seventh lunar month.

Although Hao Hao, a popular getai performer and "auntie-killer" has plenty of stage experience, the upcoming SCO concert is giving him butterflies in his stomach of a different sort.

"I'm terrified," he says. "To perform with 80 or so professional musicians behind you is very stressful.

"But an SCO concert is such an esteemed platform. When they approached me, I agreed without a second thought."

He has started running twice as much on his treadmill to "open his lungs". From running for 45 minutes once or twice a week, he now runs three days a week for 11/2 hours each time.

For all his nervousness, he does have traditional Chinese music in his blood.

His maternal grandfather was an erhu musician, who played at weddings and funerals. He often called upon the young Hao Hao to accompany him vocally during rehearsals.

He recalls: "In the afternoons, when my grandfather took out his erhu, the children in the house knew that was the signal to line up in a row, open our mouths and start singing."

Hao Hao, whose real name is Cheng Shih-wen, has been singing since he was 13 and came to Singapore in 2007 on a performance contract.

Once known for his cross-dressing antics, he got into trouble in late 2009 when he dressed up as Marilyn Monroe for a show and flashed a G-string underneath his skirt. He was summoned to the police station and eventually let off with a warning.

Last year, he starred in the Resorts World Sentosa show Ge Tai - The Musical, playing a getai rookie from out of town who is bullied by his fellow performers.

An only child, he lives here alone, while his mother, a housewife in her 60s, lives in Taiwan.

His father died of an illness in 2004.

Much as he would like her to, his mother will not be attending the concert in May because it is not convenient for her to travel here.

Nevertheless, she will be on his mind when he performs. "I'm afraid it will make me emotional and that I will cry, which means I won't be able to keep singing," he says. "I must maintain my composure."

He hopes his fans will take their mothers to the concert. "We always think of buying material gifts for Mother's Day, but to spend time with your mother is priceless."

Some fans are already looking forward to the show.

Part-time gardener Chia Teck Kern, 65, who has been a fan of the SCO for 13 years, bought a ticket to the Mother's Day concert even though he does not attend getai shows.

"I enjoyed the concert in which Lee Pei Fen performed - she had a strong voice and was spontaneous," he says. "I don't know anything about Hao Hao, but I believe he will be good too. So even though I'm not a fan of getai, I expect the show to be quite fun."

oliviaho@sph.com.sg

BOOK IT / SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA MOTHER'S DAY CONCERT - A KISS FROM MUM

WHERE: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre Auditorium, 1 Straits Boulevard

WHEN: May 12 and 13, 8pm

ADMISSION: $30, $50, $70, $15 (concession), excluding booking fees from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

INFO: www.sco.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 3, 2017.
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