SINGAPORE - When it comes to food, Singaporeans need not be persuaded twice.
This would explain how two evenings of the chamber concert Project Laksa at The Arts House were sold out and a matinee had to be added.
Audiences had been promised a sumptuous musical programme, topped with a sampling of Prima Taste's trademark laksa, Singapore style.
The main dish was the world premiere of Singaporean composer Chen Zhangyi's Laksa Cantata, a local spin-off from J.S. Bach's Coffee Cantata, with a witty and rather endearing libretto by Jack Lin.
It is a 20-minute-long mini-opera with two arias, two duets and spoken recitatives, accompanied by violin, clarinet and piano. The premise was two soon-to-be-weds squabbling over whether laksa should be served at their wedding dinner.
Soprano Rebecca Li was the feisty and sharp-tongued Leah, antagonist of dreamy and self-indulgent Stephen, sung by Symphony 92.4 deejay Kiat Goh, whose craving is a steaming bowl of laksa.
Chen chose a completely Western idiom for this setting, such that Leah's Scorned Woman Aria sounded like a Bernsteinesque showpiece, full of syncopations and twists which Li negotiated with much ease. For Stephen's Laksa Aria, the inspiration was Benjamin Britten in his more melodious moments, and Goh nailed the words with gusto.
There were titters when he sang, "The flawless complexion of the white beehoon, wavering in a sea of coconut cream, the tau pok and hae only makes me swoon."
Together, their duet Agree To Disagree had another harmonious serving of colloquialisms.
"Some say no harm, like the laksa of Katong. Others have no qualms, but they serve no sotong," goes another line.
With the threat of ma-in-law coming over to stay, the couple settle their differences (no laksa for a day), closing peaceably with a blissful duet that opens, "A new bowl is a new day."
This enjoyable exercise would have been a greater coup had Chen had mustered a Peranakan or local idiom to spice up the work.
Perhaps a detailed study of dondang sayang and related musical traditions, and the liberal use of Baba and Nyonya patois might yield a more authentic second version of the cantata in the near future.
As mastermind of this project, pianist Song Ziliang also helmed the balance of the 80-minute concert which included cross-cultural and cross-generational explorations in music.
The eclectic programme was a bit of a rojak, opening with two piano solos from China, the impressionistic Autumn Moon On Calm Lake and percussive drum-dominated dance Celebrating Our New Life.
Clarinettist Colin Tan and pianist Christine Octaviani then added a klezmer number Sholem-Alekhem, Rov Feidman! by Hungarian Jew Bela Kovacs, which sounded like a dance out of Fiddler On The Roof.
Music from two modernist composers who chose to go retro, Russian Alfred Schnittke and Frenchman Darius Milhaud, completed the programme.
Schnittke, better known as a polystylist, took the path of Stravinsky's Suite Italienne for his Suite In The Old Style for violin and piano, by rehashing baroque dance forms.
Violinist Wu Bingling and Song were harmonious throughout, with the occasional dissonance to remind listeners of the century we are living in.
They were joined by Tan in Milhaud's Suite for clarinet trio which looked at old French folkdances and pastorals before closing with a Brazilian twist.
This is Song's encouraging debut at curating a varied cross-genre programme, one that juxtaposed music and gastronomy.
However, it is not new as composer Robert Casteels had done it before. What other mouth-watering prospects do Song and his team have in store, a char kway teow concerto perhaps?