With the end of 2022 comes the beginning of 2023, and with that – a brand new theatre season for leading Singapore theatre company Wild Rice, who’ve just announced the first three shows of 2023 – a new staging of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, the arrival of the first English-language opera adaptation The Butterfly Lovers, and the restaging of their critically-acclaimed Hotel.
A thought-provoking twist on the murder mystery genre, J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls takes audiences into the heart of a comfortable middle-class home, where a family sits down to a celebratory dinner. But their evening is cut short by the unexpected arrival of an Inspector. He brings news of the tragic death of a young woman. As the Inspector investigates, tensions escalate – threatening to shatter the very foundations on which entire lives and identities have been built. What crime has been committed here? Who is guilty? And who isn’t?
A riveting clash of murder and morality, class and conscience, Priestley’s classic play asks its characters – and today’s audiences – to take a good, hard look at the troubling disparities in the world brought about by power, privilege and poverty. Written in 1945, Priestley’s classic psychological thriller is one of his best-known works, and has been studied (and continues to be studied) by generations of students in schools all over the world. Directed with biting insight by Glen Goei, this production was originally slated to open Wild Rice’s 2020 season. It proved to be one of the theatre company’s first casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Returning to this endlessly fascinating play after living through the past three years has been illuminating, to say the least,” says Goei, who is also Wild Rice’s Co-Artistic Director. “The pandemic has only sharpened the inequities between the haves and the have-nots, between those who have the power and privilege in society and those who don’t. When he first wrote this play close to 80 years ago, J.B. Priestley wanted to challenge audiences to really think about what we owe one another – and I think that’s a more pressing concern than ever right now. This play hasn’t aged a day!”
In May, Singapore audiences can look forward to the world’s first English-language opera adaptation of The Butterfly Lovers, which won critical acclaim at its world premiere in Melbourne, Australia earlier this year. Years in the making, this spectacular new production marks the first international collaboration between Wild Rice and Victorian Opera. Ivan Heng, Wild Rice’s Founding Artistic Director, leads a team of Singapore and Australia’s finest arts practitioners to put a fresh, original spin on the beloved Chinese folktale. The Butterfly Lovers features a new score by Richard Mills and a libretto by Joel Tan.
Fresh from its critically acclaimed world premiere in Australia, The Butterfly Lovers takes place in a rigidly patriarchal society. Protagonist Zhu Yingtai boldly disguises herself as a man to pursue higher education, and at school, she meets the bookish Liang Shanbo, when the proverbial sparks fly. What begins as a friendship between equals soon deepens into love between soulmates. But tragedy beckons when Yingtai is called home to be married to a wealthy suitor. Inspiring and bittersweet in equal measure, the star-crossed love between Yingtai and Shanbo transcends barriers like family, societal expectations, and – in this new incarnation – gender and sexuality.
Created in collaboration with a team of Singapore’s top theatre-makers and an international cast led by soprano Cathy-Di Zhang, countertenor Meili Li and baritone Haotian Qi, The Butterfly Lovers reaches across borders and cultures to bring this epic love story to exhilarating new heights “When Richard first invited me to direct any opera of my choosing with Victorian Opera, way back in 2015, I decided against staging an existing opera in the Western canon,” says Heng. “I thought it would be more meaningful for us to create something new together, to collaborate on a truly intercultural production that would speak to both our audiences in Singapore and in Melbourne. This Asian premiere is a dream come true.”
“Ivan Heng is, in my opinion, one of the great theatre-makers of Asia,” says Mills, who is one of Australia’s most distinguished composers, as well as the Artistic Director of Victorian Opera. “Collaborating with him on this new opera has been an invigorating, rewarding experience – we have challenged and inspired one another to make art in cross-cultural, innovative ways, and I am excited for Singapore audiences to see what we have created together.”
Last, but not least, Wild Rice will bring its award-winning blockbuster production of Hotel home to The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre. Unfolding over close to five hours and performed in nine languages, Hotel follows the guests, staff and ghosts of an iconic hotel in Singapore through a century of social and political change, from the turn of the century to modern day. Every ten years, we check in to meet the hotel’s residents: Indian mutineers, Cantonese nannies, Malay film stars, Japanese soldiers, transsexual sex workers, wedding guests, suspected terrorists, and more. They live out the pivotal moments in their personal lives, as empires die and new ones are born from their ashes.
Co-directed by Heng and Goei, from a script by Alfian Sa’at and Marcia Vanderstraaten, Hotel made its world premiere at the 2015 Singapore International Festival of Arts. In 2017, Hotel wowed audiences in Adelaide as the headline production of the OzAsia Festival. We ourselves reviewed it in 2016, and praised it for its bold “attempt to tell a country’s entire history and succeed at being simultaneously accurate, entertaining and emotional gripping,”, marking it as one of Wild Rice’s very best.
“We have always dreamt of staging Hotel in our very own theatre,” says Heng. “It is, after all, the quintessential Wild Rice show: a fully homegrown play that celebrates who we are as Singaporeans, telling our stories in ways that honour our history and our heritage.” “In the intimacy of The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre, audiences will literally be in the hotel room, experiencing the grand sweep of history through this landmark theatrical event.”
An Inspector Calls runs from 2nd March 2023, The Butterfly Lovers from 3rd to 6th May 2023, and Hotel from 8th June to 8th July 2023, all at The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre at Wild Rice @ Funan. Tickets to all three shows go on sale to Wild Rice Angels from 5 December, and to the general public from 12 noon on 19 December. Audiences will enjoy a 15% Early Bird discount on all Category 1 & 2 tickets purchased from 19 December 2022 to 18 January 2023.