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Dinner and a song
Publication Date : 12-03-2013
The Shangri-La’s Angelini’s offers a night of romance with a fabulous dinner interspersed with performances by artists from the Grand Opera
Opera usually conjures up images of sumptuous sets, elaborate costumes and lighting, and of course, powerful voices. Fine dining, however, isn’t something you necessarily associate with this form of art. But the Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok has decided to combine the two in an attempt to woo opera aficionados, lovers of good food and those who are just plain curious about how these experiences could come together.
“In Bangkok you have so many restaurants that offer fine cuisine and a nice atmosphere. But how many restaurants can you go where you’ll experience opera?” asks Shangri-La’s assistant director of food and beverage Alex Huels. “We wanted to give guests something to remember.”
And memorable it certainly is. Shangri-La’s “opera dinner” event, being held every Friday until March 22 at the popular two-tiered Angelini’s, centres around a delectable five-course Italian dinner -conceptualised by chef Omar Ugoletti - and entertainment with a twist.
Featuring young artists from the Grand Opera (Thailand), the performances are timed around the food with the singers weaving their way down the stairs in the midst of the diners as soon as each course winds down, all the while belting out a set of well-loved opera tunes.
The allure of the night is the delightful combination of food and romance. The simple yet stylish, authentic Italian cuisine and the seduction of dramatic performances set the scene for a great night out for both couples and friends. Ugoletti, who draws his inspiration from his grandmother in his hometown Ancona in central Italy, creates a selection of delicious and elegantly prepared dishes.
“I make it easy, I make it simple,” Ugoletti says of his culinary prowess. Ugoletti has trained with world-renowned chefs all around Europe before coming to Asia, working first in Beijing and now in Thailand.
“It’s very traditional Italian cuisine: almost what you would expect as a guest in an Italian home. He uses fresh ingredients, he doesn’t add a lot to them. You can taste the nutrients of the pasta, the vegetables, the Parma ham,” says Huels.
The appetite is whetted with an amuse bouche of potato foam with truffle. Next comes creamy onion soup enriched with a slice of red snapper wrapped in a spaghetti of potatoes. The pasta is home-made pappardelle with porcini mushroom and Parma ham, topped with asparagus. Guests have two choices of main course: the Mediterranean-style pan-fried sea bass in potato crust, garnished with cherry tomato and porcini mushroom, with a hint of ginger sauce or succulent roast duck breast with leek cream and pave of potatoes in red port sauce. These culinary delights are best enjoyed with wine. Dinner concludes with a scoop of Pistachio cr?me brulee served with vanilla ice cream, caramelized to perfection, a divine, decadent dessert that blends perfectly with the “fiddle I fee” and “chipsy chopsy” of “I bought me a cat”, the old American song that ends the evening on a cheery note.
“It’s different than say, being in a theatre,” says Stefan Paul Sanchez, Grand Opera (Thailand)’s founder, artistic director and one of the performers. “You get a lot closer to the audience and play with them. It’s more fun, let’s put it that way.”
Sanchez is well known on the international opera circuit, having broken into the scene as the youngest ever soloist to join the New Saddlers Wells Opera in London, and has been honoured time and again for his contribution to the genre. He launched Grand Opera (Thailand) last April and recruits and trains local talent – all free of charge.
“Thais are great musicians,” he says. “I’ve travelled and directed all over the world, but this is the first time I’ve heard consistently beautiful voices, which is very exciting.”
For the Shangri-La event, Sanchez and his crew have put together a jaunty and eclectic mix of classic opera and elements of musical in a set that incorporates numbers from such popular productions as “Les Miserables”, “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Fiddler on the Roof” as well as songs by Donizetti, Rossini and Strauss. Although the artists are relatively new to the stage, no hint of inexperience is evident here, with each song an illustration of skilled, confident vocals and indelible presence. The duets, in particular, are impressive, allowing the singers to give full reign to playfulness and demonstrating wonderful chemistry.
What also comes through in these performances, and the interactive nature of the event, is a visible effort to demystify opera - often regarded by outsiders as being too lofty, even stuffy- and make it more accessible, giving it what Huels describes as a “personal touch”.
Sanchez couldn’t be happier about the response he and his singers have enjoyed during the two opera evenings held so far.
“The audiences have been wonderful…they’re here to really enjoy themselves, and not to compare this performance with that one,” he says. “It really is an excellent combination.”