The Big Problems Of Watching An Opera In Singapore

Everybody has to learn it the hard way at least once, and today its your turn.

Continue reading to learn why it might be better not to watch an Opera performance in Singapore or at least what to prepare for in case you still decide to go.

Yesterday I felt ready again to watch another Opera performance in Singapore. The second one. Brave me.

Crime Scene “The Esplanade”

The place to go avoid for you is the strangely formed, spiky new Opera house called “Esplanade”, situated at Singapore’s harbor. It often gets praised for its unique design (by the foreign press) and the Restaurants inside (by the local press).

The designated architect chose Singapore’s national item, the “Durian Fruit” as its obvious design template.

The Durian fruit has its spikes and its smell to defend itself against enemies and potential threats, keeping them away in a distance.

I believe the architect of “The Esplanade” chose the Durian fruit not without hidden intentions. Symbolized he wants to tell us, you, potential guests, to stay away from the place as well, keep a safe distance, and save yourself from a traumatic experience.

Go, Listen To Pavarotti On Your iPod Instead

“The opera is like a husband with a foreign title – expensive to support, hard to understand and therefore a supreme social challenge.” (Quote By Unknown)

My grandfather was a conductor at a big opera house in Germany, means, I got strange looks by my buddies during school when I told them I would go and watch “Parsifal” in the evening instead of “Rambo 2″, but I also learned to understand and treasure the real Opera and its strangely and other-world seeming environment.

By walking into an warm and pompously opera house, you get transferred into another festive and magnificent world. And this is why the designer of Singapore’s opera house sent and still sends us the “hidden message” of “Stay Out Of Here – Go listen to Pavarotti on your iPod instead”.

There is no other beautiful world inside Singapore’s Opera house. Just the mere reality that you can still get a cultural shock after being here over three years already.

In Singapore watching an Opera performance is a social challenge indeed.

1. Don’t Dress Up

It is obvious that wearing a Tuxedo or ball gown in Singapore’s climate might result in immediate death through heat stroke or massive amount of water loss, dressing up like it is common practice for an Opera performance, is there for a little bit tricky.

However being forced through my work to wear long sleeved shirts and tie every day, and being an Ang Moh, I know that it is manageable to dress up decent without any problems and to still survive the Singapore tropic weather while looking more or less well dressed.

Sitting in Singapore’s Opera House you will however very soon realize that it is mainly the Ang Mohs, tourists or Expats who dress and think that way. Crocs, shorts, Tshirt and Soccer jersey are in the majority.

There for: Don’t Dress Up!

Opera House Esplanade In SingaporePhoto by kidsire

2. Don’t Switch Of Your Phone, Eat And Talk

Oh those deadly looks I got when coughing through the final aria or dropping my lorgnette at the opening overture. In Europe I mean.

Yesterdays performance was starting ten minutes late because the crowd didn’t stop talking and making noise. Although I have to give kudos to the ambitious guards which were trying their best to calm the people down so that the orchestra could start playing. That hadn’t happen in 20 years of watching opera before.

During the performance don’t bother to answer your phone, eat Hamburgers or satisfactory snuffle your nose. It is common practice not to use tissues for blowing your nose but to reserve your table and the numerous “Please Switch Off Your Phone” signs are only place holders for the upcoming promotional pictures. A final burp before the ending will make your introduction to the Singapore Opera complete.

There for: Eat, Drink and be loud!

Conclusion, Confusion

I often rant about expats and tourists not complying with local customs and their denying to integrate within the countries borders and life. However, my blog is not called “AngryAngMo” without a reason and its the above described events that put the “Angry” in front of the “Ang Moh”.

As usual it is of course just a minority of people that creates those pictures and impressions, making my local friends shaking their heads in disbelief synchronized with mine. But especially in “sensible” environments like an “Opera House” it can be a single person already, that spoils the evening for a whole auditorium.

There for: I will go and watch my third and fourth and fifth opera performance in Singapore as well, because I love opera, and because I believe in the common sense and ability of people to learn.

(Hint: Switch your phones of, leave the food at the Hawker center and keep your bodies sounds for yourself, at least as long as the orchestra plays and the tenors are singing)




Les contes d’Hoffman?
My Saturday experience was not so bad, no noise was heard (except for my neighbour’s watch beeping every hour), and since I stopped going to the movies because of Singaporean’s noises, this was Nirvana.

Howver I did not find find the performance so good; maybe once more I was disappointed by the acoustics of the Esplanade theater but in general:
Asian singer have a problem with French pronunciation, and I guess Italian and German a no better.
Every-time the singer were in the back of the scene their voices were too soft (Hoffman’s was projecting better).

As for going to the Opera dressed up like a clown at a wedding party, I couldn’t care less what people are wearing.


Hey, thats interesting, you are actually describing exactly what i thought.

The acoustics of the Esplanade are disappointing, the whole performance sounded “flat” to me, very silent voices and no understanding of the French lyrics by the Asian performers.

As for the dressing, well yes I agree, no one needs to show up like a clown, but you can at least wear decent clothes to the Opera :)


I thought the audience @ Tales of Hoffmann was perfectly well behaved. However the French pronunciation on stage made the performance unbearable. The SLO does much better with Italian and German. They should cross French off their list as a bad idea.


That’s disappointing to hear. I’ll have to keep this in mind if I do end up in Singapore. Do you know how the Singapore Symphony experience is or compares?


I’m a sucker for opera – any classical music, really – yet during my seven years in Singapore I only set foot in the Esplanade once: A friend dragged me to see some experimental theatre in one of the drama studios; I still remember the bone-crushing six inches of legroom in between the seats. That was my first and last time to visit the theatre.
But the main reason is that most likely, I had been “spoiled” from my previous sojourn in Hong Kong. There, the concert venues are fantastic, centrally located, accessible by all manner of public transport, and, importantly, constantly attracting a stream of A-list acts from Michael Baryshnikov to Angela Gheorghiu and Kiri Te Kanawa.
Afterwards, Singapore was a case of “can’t be bothered”, and I truly couldn’t be bothered – to fight for cabs outside middle-of-nowhere Kallang Theatre; – to watch the South Sydney Firemen’s Association productions of Jack and the Beanstalk and dozens and dozens of other mind-numbing musicals (‘coz that’s what the multi-billion durians have become home to – how symptomatic of Singapore’s breathless quest for being ‘world-class’!); – to bring visitors from overseas to the famed Satay Club, only to find out it had literally vanished overnight. :-) The handphone / talking loudly-type annoyances I won’t even go into.
When in despair, try the KL Philharmonic that sits underneath the Petronas Towers; I hear it’s very decent.
In the meantime, speaking from experience, for that feeling of being transported to another place, another time, I recommend a night show at the GoldenMile cinemas. From the dominatrix-type cashiers through the menacingly cavernous Art Deco interior to the Tinto Brass sex flicks on the screen – it’s truly an experience to take in! And add the not more than half a dozen of dirty old men that make up the audience, you will guaranteed not only silence but also that evasive – certainly in Singapore – feeling of ‘living dangerously’.


So true, had exactly the same experiences there! It was even exceeded once by a snoring guy in front and a farting guy next to me! Last time, the (local) girl of my choice left her rubbish on her chair after the performance which really put me off!
Talking about acoustics, did anyone listen to the organ in concert hall? Sounds like made in China…

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