Thursday, July 19, 2012

Event: Face-to-Face with John Sharpley and Robert Yeo

Select Books is pleased to invite you to 

John Sharpley and Robert Yeo

featuring musical performances by Anna Ivanenko and Satsuki Nagatome

Saturday, 21 July 2012, 5:30pm

Select Books
51 Armenian Street


Please come join us for casual conversation with the composer and librettist of Singapore's latest opera, set amidst the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. Excerpts from the opera will be performed by members of the cast.

About the Opera - Fences

Steven Lee, from Singapore, and Nora Ibrahim, from Kuala Lumpur, meet in Malaya Hall in London in the early 60s and fall in love. At the same time, Singapore and KL are involved in negotiations for the city state to be a part of Malaysia.

Steven is charming and flirtatious, Nora devout but has also liberal views. Both return home, tell their parents and meet with objections from their fathers, though their mothers are sympathetic. Nora's father, Ibrahim, arranges for a suitor for Nora and Steven is hurt in riots in Geylang Serai. Mrs Lee informs Nora and she manages  to  go Singapore and is met in the Tanjong Pagar Railway by Steven. During this period, Singapore-KL relations take a turn for the worse.

Steven's father confronts the couple in the railway station and as a result of the stress, dies of a heart attack. Singapore separates from Malaysia. Both Steven and Nora decide that their homelands are not conducive places to live in as a married couple and decide to migrate to Australia.

This story is a take on the Romeo and Juliet theme in the tumultuous 60s when race, religion and politics threaten the lives of the lovers.

About the Composer

JOHN SHARPLEY, composer, performer and teacher, possesses a unique and multi-faceted career that spans geographic and cultural borders. Born in Houston, Texas, USA, he earned a Doctorate in Music Composition from Boston University; a Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from the University of Houston; and, diplomas for piano, violin, and composition at the National Conservatory of Music in Strasbourg, France. He was composer-in-residence for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra 2004 season. He is co-founder and Artistic Director of OperaViva ( and currently teaches at both Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and LaSalle College of the Arts.

Sharpley's compositions include orchestral works, opera, music for theatre, film and dance scores, chamber music, songs, and solo piano works. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the China Philharmonic Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Novosibirsk Philharmonic, the Sheffield Winds (Chicago), the Huqin Quartet, the T’ang String Quartet are some of the prominent ensembles which have performed Sharpley's compositions. He also worked with the famous rock group R.E.M., composing an arrangement for the song Lotus. His song cycle for soprano, children’s choir and piano, The Wild Child, was recorded for the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) in 2007 by the Young Voices of Melbourne. His choral work Dream Within A Dream premiered and toured in the US in 2008. His opera Kannagi was premiered in an Indian Temple in Singapore (2009). His choreographed piano work Toccata premiered in Singapore and Delhi, India (2009).

About the Librettist

ROBERT YEO, one of the pioneers of Singaporean drama in English, is also a poet, editor, novelist, literary critic, (former) lecturer at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, and (present) teacher of creative writing, Singapore Management University. He received the Public Service Medal in 1991 for services to drama. 

Yeo has published three poetry collections: Coming Home, Baby (1971); And Napalm Does Not Help (1977); and A Part of Three (1989). He is one of the five poets in Five Takes (1974). Leaving Home, Mother (1999) is a selection of eighty-five published poems. Ironic and conversational, many poems located abroad interrogate nation-building in Singapore and the Vietnam War while the local poems probe family ties and materialism. “Nothing is new but what is forgotten” is a refrain in a good number. Yeo’s only novel, The Adventures of Holden Heng (1986), is a bildungsroman concerned with the sexual education of its antihero.

Yeo has written six plays. The Singapore Trilogy (2001) comprising “Are You There, Singapore?” (1974), “One Year Back Home” (1980) and “Changi” (1996), dramatises tensions between individual freedoms and constraints exercised by the state, the need for an Opposition in Parliament, and the costs of friendship. In 1974, “Are You There, Singapore?” made history by breaking all box office records for a theatre performance in Singapore. “One Year” was given a performance licence only after almost eighteen months of negotiation with official authorities. It was published in Manila in 1990-after Singaporean publishers turned it down, perceiving it as political dynamite. “Second Chance” (1988) is Yeo’s foray into the “Great Marriage Debate” which was initiated in 1983 when Lee Kuan Yew, then Prime Minister, lamented the fact that many graduate women were not marrying (and replacing themselves). Unlike these naturalistic plays, the interpretive aspects of history engage  “The Eye of History” (1992), a back-to-the-past fantasy played out in scenes between key figures like Munshi Abdullah (Malay historian), Stamford Raffles (founder of colonial Singapore), and Lee Kuan Yew  (“founder” of the modern republic). Yeo’s most recent play, “Your Bed is Your Coffin,” based on a schizophrenic friend, has yet to be staged. 

Yeo has edited collections of short fiction, plays and textbooks. A self-confessed compulsive writer, he is working on the libretto for “Separation”, an opera on the effects of the 1965 separation of Singapore from Malaysia, and “Routes”, his postmodernist memoirs.

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