I went to a concert with S last Sunday, which I was rather looking forward to. The concert formed part of the annual Le French May Festival, now in its fifteenth year, a celebration and appreciation of French culture. Themed French Melodies from 19th and 20th Century, and featuring tenor Dominique Moralez and pianist Arièle Zanini, the repertoire was a selection of works by Reynaldo Hahn, Henri Duparc, Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Fauré and Francis Poulenc. I have always been a fan of French music from this period, and the Japan Times hailed Moralez’s voice as “shimmering – with power and sweetness, perfect voix mixte and exquisitely refined pianissimo“, so I went with great expectations.
(top) Zanini and Moralez; (bottom) Dominique chilling out in Hong Kong!
Before the concert, we went to a Thai eatery (for I don’t think it qualifies as a “restaurant") that S recommended. S has always acted as my culinary guide, and has constantly come up with fresh suggestions for that perennially dreaded question – “where are we eating?" This Thai place, to an inexperienced diner like myself, was so exotic that I now wish I had taken a picture of it. It is situated on Stone Nullah Street off Johnston Road in Wan Chai, a stretch of which is lined with Thai “grocery stores" that sell everything from small colourful Thai puddings to fake Louis Vuitton handbags. We walked into one of these stores, down a narrow aisle, and squeezed ourselves through a small gap, to find a doorway, behind which a handful of tables and chairs were kept. Beyond this space was the kitchen, from which the steam carried the smell of spices. We sat down, and were given a rather minimalist menu, with several pages of photos of various dishes, each with a small scribbled Chinese caption at the bottom right-hand corner describing what it was. The waitresses didn’t seem to speak much Cantonese, but we managed to order what we wanted mainly by pointing at the relevant photos. The rest of the clientele there seemed to be exclusively Thai, and I noticed that a staircase behind S led upstairs to a nail parlour, one that probably catered only for their compatriots. The meal was delicious and easy on the purse strings, and I have to say that I would not have discovered the place on my own!
From there we took a leisurely walk to the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, as we still had plenty of time before the show started. Having always admired the architecture from without, this is – as far as I can remember – my first concert at the APA. In the end, I thought the concert was…decent. Moralez was charming enough, exhibiting a distinctly American sense of humour (and hybridised French/American accent – perhaps he spent some time in the US?). His voice was good, but he made me realise that it is so hard for a tenor voice to be outstanding, and his was far from that. Another shortcoming of the concert, in my opinion, was the repertoire. I know I am contradicting myself, but whilst I do love the music for its lightness and fluffiness, much like soufflés it is still hard to stomach a lot of them all at once. The single deviation from the distinctly dolce melodies was written by Poulenc, a song titled Hyde Park, which gave an impression of energy and chaos – rather fitting for the city of London! There was an amusing interlude during the concert, though – the tenor explicity asked the audience to reserve the applause till the end of a song cycle (with 9 parts), and yet certain members of the audience for whatever reason decided to persist with clapping between parts, and Moralez eventually had to give a resigned laugh at the individuals’ stubborness.
(top and middle) The interior of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts; (bottom) the view from our seats in the concert hall
Despite all the sweetness served up at the concert, S and I felt a yen for some desserts afterwards, so we went to a place called 囍宴 , whose decor I immediately warmed to. Burgundy walls contrasted with white table tops and black chairs, and were adorned with a few paintings. By the time we got there, the entire restaurant was empty but for two people chatting over drinks. We sat by the glass wall – a good spying position, said S. The dessert menu was full of original and delectable choices – I struggled between lychee ice-cream pancake and filled glutinous rice balls, eventually opting for the latter as it’s served hot. Although it’s a staple Chinese dessert dish, they introduced a sweet and crunchy ingredient – S suspected it was sugar-coated winter melon (糖冬瓜) – into the filling, which for me greatly improved the taste. I had a small taste of S’s choice too – tofu ice-cream with pandan rice(?) – which also tasted lovely. Thanks to S, I’ve made another valuable culinary discovery!
On the whole I highly recommend this three-course “fusion" meal – Thai, French Romantic music and Chinese New Wave (that’s what I’m calling it anyway)!