As Boney M once exclaimed, “Oh those Russians”! Although this is Scots Whay Hae! my first literary loves are 19th century Russian writers, and I am a little obsessed with the culture of that place and time. This being the case, Scottish Opera and the National Opera Studio’s From Russia With Love, the latest of The Sunday Series of concerts. With libretti adapted from writers such as Pushkin and Gogol, and music from Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Mussorgsky, it was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
The Prelude to ‘The Golden Cockerel’ set the tone with a caricatured Donald Trump, in the exagerated style of Terry Gilliam, on stage lending things a modern and satirical twist, something which carried on throughout. There were visceral scenes of torture reminiscent of a scene from Reservoir Dogs (‘Kashchey The Immortal’), references to #MeToo (‘The Bear’), and demonic possession in the style of the Ringu films, or even The Exorcist (‘Khovanshchina’). You may have an idea of what opera is, but Scottish Opera make you think again, regularly proving that they are one of the most innovative and impressive companies around.
For fellow Russian lovers, expected themes were explored – love, pride, lust, regret, betrayal and jealousy – all the good stuff. The pivotal performances were from Stravinsky’s 1951 opera ‘The Rake’s Progress’, with ‘Anne’s Aria’ followed by ‘Tom’s Aria’. The relationship between the two lovers is relegated to second place by Tom’s desire for money. By the time he has his money he realises that what he desires is happiness, something he had with Anne. Love destroyed by greed, lust, the weaknesses of men, and the interference of others – Russian opera, and literature, is stuffed with such stories. I would argue nobody does it better.
The next in The Sunday Series is on 6th May, Aleko & Francesca Da Rimini, an adaptation of an Alexander Pushkin poem with music by Rachmaninov. If From Russia With Love sounds like something you would have liked then make sure you get your tickets for that. I guarantee it’ll be well worth it.
Here’s the trailer for From Russia With Love and a slideshow with stills from the performance (with thanks to Scottish Opera):