I have been seriously missing any real culture fix here in Saigon for quite a while. When I was asked by a friend if I fancied going to a night at the Opera House to see a classical concert I jumped at the chance. Saigon’s own HBSO Symphony Orchestra were to present two halves of work by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. It turned out to be a truly wonderful night.

We met at one of my favourite spots “In Saigong” a lovely rooftop bar in the heart of District 1 for a few pre-concert drinks, then strolled over Nguyen Hue to the Opera House. I was so looking forward to this. I have been here 5 years and shamefully this was my first experience inside this wonderful old Opera House. It did not disappoint. We had prime seats, the best in the house, three rows from the front and perfectly placed to be able to watch the pianist.

The Stage is set with perfect seats to watch pianist Ms Ho Thi The Van

A Night at the Opera House: Superb in every way

The Saigon Opera House is a wonderful custom built opera House perfectly fit for purpose to present classical works of this nature to an audience of around 480. It is a throwback to the days when acoustics and aesthetics matter more than size and the need to maximise profit. I adored it.

A night at the Opera House, what a glorious setting
A glorious reminder of days when the dollar didn't come first
A glorious reminder of days when the dollar didn’t come first

The orchestra took to the stage to generous applause from a packed audience; the night was completely sold out. The first half was given over to Tchaikovsky’s Piano concerto No1 B-flat minor opus 23. I was very familiar with this works and knew what to expect. I was somewhat taken aback by the standard. Although not regarded as one of the true world class orchestras, Saigon’s finest is very fine indeed.

The piano was taken by Ms. Ho Thi The Van an exceptional exponent of her craft. She has travelled the globe playing with top symphony orchestras and her class really did shine through. Ho Thi The Van is tall and elegant and sits further from her instrument then any pianist I can remember seeing. She delivered Tchaikovsky’s tricky piano part with great expertise and feeling.

Ms Ho Thi The Van takes her very well earned ovation

For the second half I had no idea really what to expect. I would certainly not describe myself as a Shostakovich fan, finding much of his work a little difficult with which to engage. I had previously thought that there was also a bit too much crash bang wallop for my particular taste. Tonight they were to perform the Symphony no 5 in D minor op47.

Maestro Le Phi Phi; a Man on Top of his Game

To hear this performed in the wonderful setting of the Saigon Opera House and played with such feeling and technique was quite simply wonderful. Conductor Le Phi Phi is a true maestro. He lived every second of this work and pulled each section of the orchestra into his reality, his way of presenting the work. He was good in the first half for the Tchaikovsky, he was magnificent in the second when presenting the Shostakovich masterpiece. I had never really heard the third movement of this work and I was mesmerised. The almost imperceptible vibrato of the strings was heart bracingly beautiful.

Maestro Le Phi Phi, what a performance!
A night at the Opera House, what an experience
Conductor and Orchestra received a heartfelt and prolonged applause.

This really was a wonderful evening and one that I cannot wait to relive. I have a feeling that I will be making many more sojourns in the coming months.