Opera In Paradise Returns For Its Second Edition At Malaysia’s Most Renowned Private Island Resort

From 18 to 20 October 2024, the hotly anticipated Opera in Paradise returns for its second edition, buoyed by the sold-out crowd and magnificent reception for its inaugural edition last year. This year, the roster of artistes includes returning musical director and flautist Andrea Griminelli, along with multi-album mezzo-soprano Laura Wright, award-winning soprano Cathy-Di Zhang, and celebrated tenor John Longmuir, who has performed more than 500 times for Opera Australia.

At last year’s Opera in Paradise, musical director Andrea Griminelli remembers his very first trip to Pangkor Laut Resort back in 1994, when he travelled there as part of the musician ensemble to the late Luciano Pavarotti. At the time, when asked on his first encounter with the private island resort of Pangkor Laut Resort, Pavarotti, one of the legendary Three Tenors, exclaimed: “This place is enchanting, it is paradise here. This morning when I woke up, I went out and I was really moved, almost crying to see how beautiful things has been done by God—because this is really paradise.”

In the intervening years, Griminelli would continue visiting Pangkor Laut Resort on his sojourns into Asia. “I came again in 2002 with Pavarotti when he inaugurated the spa, and I’ve probably been here between eight and 10 times.” So, when the idea for Opera in Paradise was conceived, Griminelli remembers wondering what it would be like, being the musical director of an opera set within a tropical island instead of a concert hall. “It was an honour when I was asked because of the relationship I enjoy with the YTL family,” he says.

Dato’ Mark Yeoh, YTL Corporation’s Executive Director, remembers being in Modena—the birthplace of Pavarotti—and reflecting on his own family’s memories of Pavarotti. “We used to visit Luciano there. And, of course, I called Andrea to become the music director for Opera in Paradise.”

Thus Opera in Paradise—a tribute to Pavarotti and also intended to benefit Hospis Malaysia—made perfect sense to Griminelli. “God gives us talents and we have to give back,” he says, “and to remember Pavarotti as well at this island resort that is rich with his legacy.” (The resort’s highest-tier accommodation is named The Pavarotti Suite.)

Having worked with him at more than 200 concerts around the world, Griminelli likens Pavarotti to a father. “I remember him asking me, when I was a young musician, to join him for a concert—I was just studying in Paris then.” To many, Pavarotti was a myth. Griminelli, however, possesses an enduring memory of the maestro’s great generosity. “He loved a lot of people and was always generous with his advice. He even ordered a gold flute for me.”

It’s no wonder, then, that the wheels quickly whirred into motion for the inaugural edition of Opera in Paradise. Thanks to Griminelli’s global renown, he was able to assemble a star lineup comprising American tenor Michael Austin, who is known for his starring role in Verdi’s Othello, as well as Belle Voci (Italian for ‘beautiful voices’), a soprano duo from the UK who featured on the live finals of The Voice UK and also performed at the 2019 FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium.

Emily Burnett and Sophie Rowland, who make up Belle Voci, comments: “It’s just bizarre that our voices brought us somewhere as idyllic as this—we just can’t stop smiling.” During soundcheck, Burnett and Rowland observed that amid the melody of string quintet and the piano, the rhythmic waves added ‘another level’ to their performance that they couldn’t believe.

Austin, whose his life-long career began as a five-year-old singing in church, describes his first-ever visit to Pangkor Laut Resort in much the same way as Pavarotti did. “You see a paradise when looking at the beautiful waters, the greenery and the people here who are so nice.” The tenor, who fancies a game of golf or chess in between work, says the greatest gift that music has given him is humility. “If you really study the literature of all the composers, and really understand it, it makes you a better human being. These were brilliant people and they knew what they were doing—and I’m thankful every day for the lessons that we are still learning through their music, especially given the state of the world today.”

Throughout the Opera in Paradise programme, guests enjoyed the many charms of Pangkor Laut Resort, from a ‘Pasar Malam Night’ welcome dinner, which recalls the flavours and aromas of nearby Ipoh city’s street food scene, to scenic cocktails at Fisherman’s Cove, overlooking the Malaccan Straits.

At Samudera, the resort’s al fresco gazebo, and against a rock face, the inaugural Opera in Paradise went into full swing with Griminelli launching into a repertoire of Bizet, Morricone, Puccini’s O Mio Babbino Caro, and Czardas by Vittorio Monti, among others. Of note was Austin’s rendition of O Paradiso, harking back to Pavarotti’s evocative description of the resort.

Then, a stirring trio of songs by Belle Voci with Flower Duet, Nessun Dorma, and Time to Say Goodbye, before Griminelli and Austin brought up the rear with O Sole Mio. The final song for the evening, Verdi’s Brindisi, even saw a rainbow colour the horizon, which prompted Griminelli to quip that Pavarotti himself was smiling on, and approved of, the proceedings.

An opera gala dinner that followed at Feast Village also included the Pavarotti Pasta, reconstructed by the kitchen team from notes found in the 1988 Metropolitan Opera cook book (in which Pavarotti contributed two recipes—both for pasta). For mains, the King’s Medallion of roasted wagyu and shaved truffle recalled the repeated requests by the present-day King Charles III at Pangkor Laut Resort during his 2017 official tour of Malaysia. To conclude, a classic opera dessert was served, a French classic popularised in the mid-century as a tribute to the Paris opera.

Reflecting on the inaugural Opera in Paradise, Griminelli says: “I’m very moved because I see so many friends here—people who I’ve known for so long. And for us to do a concert every year here—it gives me a kind of happiness, and I’m excited to bring the best musicians and the best singers to this paradise.”

To purchase tickets and stay packages for this year’s edition of Opera in Paradise (18 – 20 October, 2024), click here. For more information, visit Pangkor Laut Resort’s official website.

More photos of Opera in Paradise at Pangkor Laut Resort

Pangkor Laut Resort

Photography: Zung The Photoz and YTL Hotels

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