An estate for the operas

Opera Estate is a 50-plus-year old estate bounded by Siglap Road, East Coast Road, New Upper Changi Road and Bedok South Road.

I have lived there for 27 years, from the time I was born till I bought my first matrimonial home. My parents are original owners of a house there and continue to live in the estate, as do many of my childhood friends. One of my favourite pastime while I was in primary school was to walk the streets in the afternoon. My parents were teaching and I was home alone after school. Being an energetic kid, I would walk (later cycle when I got my first bike at primary 5) around every day, making maps of the place. As a daredevil type, one of my favourite thrills was to push my rackety bike up the hill and let it roll down freely on the rather steep Fidelio street without brakes. Some residents tells me naughty kids still do that these days, something more dangerous than in my time  because of the increasing car population.

Swan Lake Ave and Fidelio Street in 1960. Photo contributed by blog reader Chin Siew Min.

I have always wondered about the names. I was told it took on the name of famous operas. Recently, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to do some research on the names. The kind people at NLB through its online ASK-A-Librarian service gave me the following responses:

Opera Estate was developed by the Frankel brothers. The street names have an operatic theme. In addition to the western operas there are streets connected to Bangsawan or the Malay opera which was developed largely by the Peranakan or Straits Chinese community (Source: Street Names of Singapore, RSING 959.57 DUN, p. 231).

The peculiarity of Opera Estate lies in the fact that its street-names are reminiscent of grand operas. Examples of estate toponymics which draw inspiration from western operas include Adia, Carmen, Fidelio and Tosca Streets (Source: Toponymics : a study of Singapore street names, RSING 915.9570014 SAV, p. 285).

I did further Google searches by each name and found interesting information on each street.

The street names nearer to New Upper Changi Road are those related to the  Malay Operas, bearing  names such as  Jalan Terang Bulan, Terang  Bulan Avenue (translated: bright moon), Jalan  Bintang Tiga (translated: three stars) and Jalan Bangsawan (a term for Malay Opera).

Terang Bulan is adopted from a famous song during the late 19th century in the French occupied territories in the Indian Ocean. In 1901, it was presented as the Perak State Anthem during installation ceremony of King Edward VII. In 1920s, an Indonesian Bangsawan made the first debut of the song while performing in Singapore (source: Wikipedia). Jalan Bintang Tiga is likely named after the Malay Bangsawan and movie production entitled “Jula Juli Bintang Tiga”.

Further inside Opera Estate, there are streets named after Italian operas, such as Rienzi, Ernani, Norma, Tosca, Aida. English opera is represented by Dido, a Baroque-style opera. Metropole could be referring to New York-based Metropolitian opera house, famous for its operas and plays.

Singapore 1966s

Photo of a house in Tosca Terrace in 1966 shared by reader David Senior

Russians are represented by Swan Lake, a beautiful ballet play by the famous Tchaikovsky. Fidelio, the busiest street in Opera Estate is named after a German play.  Finally, we have the French, who are well represented by Carmen, Lakme, and Dafne. Figaro is from the opera, The Marriage of Figaro by the famous Austrian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is a tale of intrigue and disguise with a happy ending as Susanna, maid to a countess marries Figaro.

Most of these operas sound foreign to me. I only knew more about them during this short research on the street names of Opera Estate. The Frankel brothers must be quite cultured to come up with so many operas from around the world to name the streets at a time where information research is much more tedious than today. I have not yet begun research on Frankel Estate or the Frankel brothers. A quick Google search found an old 1925 Straits Times advertisement by the Frankel brothers marketing Knickerbockers shower bath brush and two persons with the family name of Frankel listed as qualified jurors in Singapore in 1904. I figured they must be influential business people who developed Frankel Estate from a coconut plantation in the 1950s followed by Opera Estate in the 1960s.

Our street names contain interesting history and curious information nuggets. When you get the time, go research the name of interesting sounding streets and you may be surprised at what you can find.

Visiting homes in Siglap / Opera during GE2011

New information after blog post:

1. Frankel is named after the Frankel Coconut Estate, which then included the whole of Siglap and extended to the beaches along Katong and Bedok. The Frankels were cloth merchants but later had a furniture emporium in Victoria Street.

2. Woo Mun Chew Road is named after a leading granite and public works contractor in both Singapore and Malaya, Mr. Woo Mon Chew. He gave generously to education before and after the Japanese world war The area behind the road was Siglap hill, which was levelled for housing development.

3. It appears to me that the streets with operatic names were built by the Frankel brothers in the 1950s to 1960s while other roads such as Woo Mun Chew Road, Jalan Tua Kong, Jalan Ulu Siglap and Elite areas were built by other developers.

4. Jalan Tua Kong might have been named after a rather prominent Tua Pek Kong temple which existed there at that time. I did recall Tua Kong to be a sleepy area with squatter houses when I was young. The back areas of Tua Kong beyond the current row of shophouses were undeveloped under the 1980s.

5. In the 1910s entrepreneur Baba Cheong Koon Seng founded the Star Opera, a Malay bangsawan troupe, which performed at his own theatre, Theatre Royal in North Bridge Road. Khairuddin (or K Dean) was the star of the show. Jalan Khairuddin is named after him.

6. There used to be two primary schools in Opera Estate – Opera Estate Boys’ School and Opera Estate Girls’ School. These schools were merged in 1985 into the current Opera Estate Primary School in the original location along Fidelio Street.

7. The quick research we did at the Lee Kong Chian library revealed a lot more information about street names and personalities in the area covering Siglap, Frankel, Telok Kurau, Joo Chiat and Katong. I will be sharing these in future postings.

A map of Siglap from the National Library in 1954, before most parts of Opera Estate was built.

A map of Siglap from the National Library in 1954, before most parts of Opera Estate was built.

References

1.
Book Title: Street names of Singapore / Peter Dunlop.
Author: Dunlop, Peter K. G
Publisher: Singapore : Who’s Who Pub., 2000.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 DUN -[HIS]
Description: RP
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore

2.
Book Title: Toponymics : a study of Singapore street names / Victor R. Savage & Brenda S.A. Yeoh.
Author: Savage, Victor R
Publisher: Singapore : Eastern Universities Press, 2004.
Call No.: RSING English 915.9570014 SAV -[TRA]
Description: First published in 2003. First published in 2003.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore

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33 Comments

  1. Until early 1996, I used to live in a double-storey terrace home in Carmen Terrace that my grandfather bought in 1960, four years after it had been built. My grandfather also bought a single-storey home in Dafne Street, where my brother still lives, surrounded by massive 3-storey houses.

    I was given to understand that the streets with Western opera names and those with sandiwara names (mostly north of Fidelio St) were developed by different companies. But I may have been misinformed.

    Until the 1960s, Opera Estate was mostly populated by Europeans, mostly British army servicemen, I believe. The grounds of the two Opera Estate schools used to be the scene of great parties at Christmas.

    Reply
    • My parents told me the areas around Fidelo were built first. The last to be built was Terang Bulan Avenue and Maria Avenue. Access to Opera Estate was by Fidelo Street and Woo Mun Chew Road prior to Terang Bulan Avenue being built in the 1960s.

      I remember the 2 Opera schools before they were merged into 1.

      Reply
  2. Anne Chiang

     /  December 3, 2011

    I lived in Jalan Terang Bulan right up till 1987, when my parents, both teachers, sold the double-storey terrace house and moved away. They had lived there almost 30 years.

    I remember the estate being flood-prone and very hot. Air-conditioners (window units only) were uncommon back then and considered a luxury item; so my sister and I endured many a sweaty night during the warmer months. I was told many years later that the whole estate sat in a valley, that was why…..

    A deep drain ran parallel to the back of the row of terrace houses, where we lived. Our back yards faced the back yards of the houses in Jalan Bintang Tiga. During the monsoon months, it would fill with ‘teh-si’ coloured water, bringing with it lots of curious objects from ‘upstream’. During the dry months, there was little water but what it contained never failed to intrigue me.

    Much of my childhood centered around the streets with those operatic sounding names. I used to prowl the streets on my bicycle, with my childhood friend, who lived two doors away. I always had this notion that Fidelio Street cut the estate distinctly down the centre, into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, with me coming from the latter half. And of course, I was one of those who ‘lived dangerously’ – I would push my bicycle up the Fidelio Street slope and enjoy the ride down, at a very high speed, resisting the temptation to brake until the very last minute; leaving my childhood friend watching from the foot of the slope, mouth agape. A regular pit stop would be the playground at Jalan Bangsawan; with the ridiculous 45 deg. see-saws.

    When East Coast Park came up, my playground expanded over night. I was no longer confined to just the streets of Opera Estate. From Tosca Street, I would get out to Woo Mon Chew Road and there lay before me, the very busy and menacing Upper East Coast Road; from which I would navigate heavy traffic to get to the beach and cycling track . Road safety had been properly drilled into me by my late father since I could ride a two-wheeler.

    I have many memories of living in Opera Estate, too many to mention here. Even though most of the neighbours I grew up with have since moved away or passed on, these memories will stay with me always….and if my memory continues to serve me well, I hope I will live to tell not just my children, but my grandchildren, about what life was like, back in the old days, in Opera Estate.

    Reply
  3. Les

     /  March 3, 2012

    A large part of Opera Estate was developed for the British forces. If you google around, you will find children of ex-servicemen living in dafne or carmen street. Mrs Seow Pek Leng, Singapore’s first woman MP owned a few properties and rented out to them. After the British pull out, the houses were sold … new plots were developed. Opera Estate used to house lots of teachers especially Malay che gu’s because the teachers’ union encouraged a kind of saving scheme. This being one of the more affordable areas, a lot of teachers bought and moved in. I lived there for more than 40 years… I remember going down the hill, I remember walking past the haunted house, I remember my friends from Katong Convent, St Pats and TKGS. It was such a multicultural area: eurasians, indians, malays and chinese. Those were happy times when flame-of-the-forest trees lined Carmen Street, and when it rained, it flooded. What a joyous past. Nowadays Opera Estate is filled with multi-storeyed monstrosities.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing the old memories of Opera 🙂

      Reply
    • There was a haunted house?? Where? Pray tell! From Les’ post, we probably know each other….my friends were from the same schools!

      Sadly though, many of us got married, moved away and haven’t been in touch, except for my trusty childhood friend who will always be in my heart and who remains steadfastly in not just my memory but in Facebook as well!

      Reply
  4. Siew Min

     /  March 3, 2012

    Hi JJ,

    Great you started a page on Opera Estate. I have an old 1960s photo of Swan Lake Avenue sent to me by an ex Resident showing a glimpse of the the row of shops along Fidelio Street.Do you remember the old Barber, Indian Provision, Chinese Provision shop etc? I’ll email it to you if you think its appropriate to put up on this page.

    It will also be a great idea to ask current and ex residents of Opera Estate to contribute old photos as the estate has changed significantly since the old days that we remember, It will be a trip down memory lane for many.

    Reply
    • Dear Siew Min

      Please do. My email is jennjong.yee@wp.sg. I grew up in Opera Estate in the 60s to early 90s. Used to frequent the provision shops there. Many of the shops have now been turned into food joints. Used to go Lian Seng, Chuan and the Indian provision shops.

      Reply
      • CHUAN HUP! Wow, thanks for the memory, JJ. I think there was some rivalry going on between them and Lian Seng, which was situated at the end of the block. I remember Jackie of Chuan Hup, who use to deliver gas cylinders right to our kitchen…..and other uh…..”auxiliary” services he rendered to my dad on a weekly basis, which were meticulously recorded in his little black book. Those were the days when life was much simpler…..

  5. Amy Chiang

     /  March 13, 2012

    It was Chuan Lam, not Chuan Hup! It started out as a provision shop, like Lian Seng on the other end of that block of shops in Swan Lake Avenue, but Chuan Lam expanded its gas business over the years until gas became its mainstay. The Indian provision shop was a magnet for the neighborhood kids with its array of candy and magazines like Fanfare.

    Anne, my sister, will also remember how Jalan Terang Bulan had its own celebrities for a while — Mel and Joe Ferdinands of the famous musical family and Talentime fame. They lived on the other end of the street from us.

    We attended Opera Estate Girls’ School, before it merged with Opera Estate Boys’ to form Opera Estate Primary, and our neighbors went to CHIJ Opera Estate.

    Bus number 21 ran down Fidelio Street just to pick up Opera Estate residents before heading up that long hill towards Siglap Road and Katong. Then when the bus depot in Kampong Chai Chee was built, we in Jalan Terang Bulan cheered because it was just a walk away – certainly nearer than Fidelio.

    Itinerant hawkers plied the streets of Opera Estate, way before the days of hawker centers with running water. We could order chai tow kuay or noodles or even putu mayam (Indian string hoppers). The noodle man would park his cart somewhere and send his ‘runner’ out, and this usually-teenage boy would use a pair of bamboo clappers to tell the neighborhood he was around to take orders.

    And then the ‘bread van’ came by daily, selling crackers as well as sliced bread and French loaves. It cost just 40 cents per pack of sliced white bread, I recall, in the early 70s. It is always cheaper living in the past.

    Reply
    • Oops. You are right. Chuan Hup is the name of a public listed firm 🙂

      Should be Chuan Lam. Thanks for the memories.

      Reply
  6. Denise

     /  September 16, 2012

    My father was based in RAF Changi in 1965 and I’m trying to track down where we lived (off camp). Our house was semi-detached and had balconies along the front upstairs. There was a small monsoon drain running along the road – and I think the front garden had a wall. There was a field of oxen opposite and the jungle behind, with a kampong nearby.

    There was a small pool/swamp at the end of our row, which I’d heard was drained in the 80’s and was discovered to be a mass burial grave. There was a cemetery close by – Chinese I think – it had a pavilion with steps.

    We would go to an Amah’s night market and would walk along what I thought to be a wide monsoon drain like the one pictured in your blog – though it could have been a canal.

    There was also a row of shops in walking distance -I remember watching a dragon dance there.

    We had 2 different ahmas – Nan and Meena. One, (I think it was Meena) took us to her home – in a Malay kampong (her house was raised). Nan married a photographer.

    Any photos or memories of the area would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks
    Denise

    Reply
    • David Senior

       /  April 22, 2017

      Hi Denise
      I was a 5 year old and lived in Singapore for one year when my dad was based at Changi. We lived at 4 Tosca Terrace. We played in the drains and there was an area of jungle behind the house.I have a photograph of my mother on a balcony at 4 Tosca Terrace.

      Reply
      • I would love to see that photo David!

      • David Senior

         /  April 22, 2017

        HI Denise I forgot to mention that I was 5 in 1965 and went to school on the back of a army truck. I remember seeing a circus with a tiger. I fell out of a tree and smashed my head open.
        I not sure how to attach a photo through this contact. My email address is dsenior@actrix.co.nz. If you can email me I can send you the photo.

      • I have shared your photo on my blog. Thanks David.

      • David Senior

         /  May 3, 2017

        Dear Joo

        Many thanks for posting my photo. Your site has been useful in tracing my family history.

        Regards David

  7. Susan Banks

     /  July 10, 2013

    My family and I moved to Singapore in 1959 as my father was stationed in Changi. We lived for quite a few months in I think 12 Tosca Terrace from around September 1959 to June 1960. I can remember going to school on the garry with a guard and there were many service men and their families there. I can remember my mother getting together a few friends and the ‘linen man’ would come with a big bag of household linen ( some of which I still have!!!); sometimes we’d rent Laurel and Hardy movies and a projector and my father would open the garden gate and we’d soon have loads of ‘visitors’ .. great fun and great memories.

    Reply
  8. Ian Poulier

     /  August 30, 2013

    I’m a current resident of Opera Estate living at Aida Street. I remember the bus depot that was right outside my doorstep, where the buses reversed. I think it’s the only route that still exists from colonial times. There used to be many buses plying through Opera Estate, nos, 20, 21, 158 all ending up at Chai Chee estate….

    Reply
  9. Rosie

     /  October 7, 2013

    Wow oh WOW!!! This is a fabulous site! Thank you, Mr Yee, for this website and especially this post. Thank you to all who contributed and shared their memories. I shall be visiting more often. I went to CHIJ Opera Estate from 1969 until 1972 (they only had Pri 1 – Pri 4 in those days) and then to Katong Convent. I have been living in Carmen Street for more than six years and I love it! The provision shop we have on this side of the estate is Lian Beng Huat on Figaro Street. It is very much like the provision shops of the old days – stacked and packed with all kinds of things.

    It’s a happy day for me, finding this.

    P.S. Mr. Yee, I’m the one you met outside Cold Storage about a month or two ago, the one who was in the line in front of you at the cashier with the pizza toppings, the who came back just to vote 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks. Yes, I remember meeting you and you telling me that if I had been just a bit earlier, I would have had the Virginia ham ends you just bought 🙂 No worries, we enjoyed our purchase of the other ham ends. And I will be making my rounds to your street soon. I still have the record of your address. Always a pleasure for me to visit Opera Estate as I had lived 27 years there!

      Reply
  10. Haslinda Harun

     /  May 5, 2014

    Hi Mr Yee! My name is Haslinda Harun and I was living in Aida Street from 1978-1999. I studied in OEGS. I am planning a 30th year reunion for the old girls this Nov!! We will be collecting photos from our old school days in Fidelio Street. I will gladly share them with you. Do you have any other historical background on our school tho? I cannot find any at the moment 😦

    Reply
    • Dear Haslinda

      Great that you are doing a school reunion. Afraid I don’t have any photos myself of the school, just lots of memories playing in the field next to the school and in and by the drains 🙂 Perhaps readers who have photos can reply to this post. Have a good reunion!

      JJ

      Reply
    • Reena

       /  August 26, 2014

      Hi Mr Yee & Haslinda. I used to stay at 10D Jalan Tua Kong from the time I was born in 1977 to 1990 that was till a private developer bought over my grandfather house to build condominium. I was the last batch for OEGS. During that time,I was in Pr 1 which was in 1984. When I went to Pr 2 in 1985, they change it to OEPS.I managed to wear the green pinafore school uniform only for a year before they change to blue. I still kept my old OEGS report book for memory. We then moved to Jalan Bintang Tiga.

      I remember there was a tailor school at Jalan Tua Kong. In front of my house used to be a lion troupe club and a 2 mins walk there was a house with a big empty land where they will build a stage to perform Chinese opera during the Hungry Ghost month. During that time lots of vendors will sell all kinds of food and snacks. We kids will bring our stools to watch even when we don’t understand the language. We are the only Ceylonese family living there….

      Reply
  11. FIDELIO! Please, get it right.
    Also, there were three schools… CHIJ Opera Estate up on the hill.

    Reply
  12. My aunt is named after Fidelio Street (please, not Fidelo. I hate spelling errors.). My Dad’s family moved in in 1959, and we still live here. It’s great to see old pictures, to hear the old stories… I believe there were British officers living in this estate too, in the early days.

    Reply
  13. Amy Chiang

     /  July 31, 2015

    Are/were you a sub-editor in a newspaper?

    Reply
  14. brian pearce

     /  December 1, 2017

    Hi my name is Brian and Ive just discovered this wonderful site about Opera Estate
    I was in the RAF based at Changi and lived at No 9 Ernani Street with my wife and daughter who was 8 months old when we arrived in 1963.We have many happy memories of our stay there until 1966. We have been back a couple of times and the house we used to rent was still there! we last visited Singapore in 2007 however in February 2018 we are planning to visit again and this time are bringing our daughter to show her where she spent the first 3 years of her childhood. Does anyone know if 9 Ernani Street is still there? I hope so

    Reply
    • David Senior

       /  December 2, 2017

      Hi Brian
      It does still exist. You need to search for it in a program like Google Earth. It will zoom in and show you a photo of the house. My father Walter Senior was with the RAF at Changi in 1965 to 1966 so would have overlapped with you. I was 5 and went to the primary school in Changi,

      Reply

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