Moira Loh’s first encounter with the world of opera might just be classified as a fluke. “I was failing a lot of classes at the school I was in and I needed a way out – so I thought okay, let me sing and try to get out of this,” she shares with a half-laugh. And sing she did. One successful audition later, the former Alto choir singer was admitted to the School of the Arts Singapore. After being awarded the National Arts Council undergraduate scholarship and spending five years at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, the opera singer returned to Singapore. When I point out she’s been making moves as of late, Loh is self-effacing: “I guess I’ve been busy.”
To date, the 26-year-old counts classics such as Die Fledermaus, The Turn of the Screw and Dido and Aeneas as part of her repertoire. More recently, however, the trajectory of Loh’s work has hit closer to home. “Recently, I did a set of songs by local composers that were set to poems by migrant workers. It shone a light on their struggles in Singapore and I thought that was particularly meaningful especially in the context of how poorly the pandemic was handled with regards to them.” Loh hints at a growing audience of opera-lovers, who apart from appreciating the art form, are also being introduced to a newfound relevance to home. “I think it’s changing in that it’s not enough to just sing anymore. It’s about how we can relate it to what’s going on in the context of our own country.” As opera’s resonance continues to expand on our shores, Loh sheds light on the new guards redefining the operatic universe.
What drew you to opera in particular?
I’ve always loved performing, acting and singing. Opera just kind of brought all of it together.
How would you describe your sound?
It sounds almost like a violin or erhu when I sing. It also just might sound like someone screaming or a mosquito in the distance… You will have to ask my neighbours.
Classical music often has a connotation of being rigid and structured. How do you feel younger musicians are challenging this stereotype?
We live in a pretty visually-focused culture where we look to music as instant entertainment. Classical music is antithetical to that. It’s something that takes time to learn about to really appreciate. Our generation possesses both those opposing forces within us, so we are looking at ways to bring classical music into more creative settings – interdisciplinary works, performances that exist outside of the concert hall, music videos and so on. We are also engaging our audiences in different ways and making sure our programs have relevance to them.
Who inspires you?
Definitely just working with other musicians in Singapore who have day jobs and do all kinds of work to sustain the ability to come together and create music. I love our community here.
What have been some of the struggles you’ve faced in your field?
I think especially for opera and classical music, there’s been this huge reckoning around the notion of relevance. Why would a Singaporean audience be interested in listening to western classical music? If art is meant to reflect the everyday, how can it be done in a way that’s so far removed from who we are as a society? Reframing opera in a way that is relatable to locals has been challenging – and a lot of it has stemmed from educational programs that we take to schools and public spaces. It’s about introducing audiences to the vocabulary of the medium and seeing how can we extract larger truths from it. It’s just about understanding it from a different perspective. It takes some time and requires difficult conversations, but it’s a labour of love for sure.
Photography JOEL LOW
Styling GREGORY WOO
This story originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of L'Officiel Singapore.