Tokyo Storm Warning: A Review Of Scottish Opera's Iris…

Scottish Opera’s Opera In Concert series is a musical highlight of any year, and their latest production at Glasgow’s City Halls was Mascagni’s Iris. These concerts are in many ways opera in the raw with the orchestra and chorus, conducted by Music Director Stuart Stratford, taking centre stage. This is an all too rare chance for the audience to see the dynamic of the orchestra in full effect, and it’s as fascinating as it is awesome.

It’s also a chance to witness the power and control of opera singers up close and personal, with the cast at the front of the stage, either sitting or standing, with literally no place to hide. As much as you may love the full theatre Scottish Opera experience, with the lavish sets, lighting, props, etc, there is something pure and immediate about seeing opera presented in such a straightforward way. You can concentrate intently on the music, and the plot. Which brings me to the heartbreaking tale of ‘Iris’ herself.

Set in Japan in the Edo period, Iris is a dark and disturbing tale which proves to have parallels with high-profile recent events. The titular character is tricked and kidnapped from the family home, where she lives a peaceful life with her blind father, and taken to a geisha house of ill-repute in the city. It is made abundantly clear that Iris is little more than a child, still playing with dolls and entranced by puppet shows, and while her story is shocking, as it should be, it doesn’t take much to bring to mind recent stories of child slavery, sex trafficking, and more examples of such exploitation in evidence today.

Across the board Iris’s innocence is lost at the hands of men, with even her father turning against her, but while it can feel at times as if she is being punished for simply being a woman you are left in no doubt as to where the blames lies. Masculinity has rarely been so obviously toxic, and the theme of the abuse of power runs throughout. If this sounds unremittingly bleak (it is opera after all, where happy endings are rare to say the least) it is saved by the humanity of Iris’s story, and the thought that this is theatre, and as with the puppet play which took place on stage, it is there to make us think as well as feel, and in this Iris ticks all the boxes.

Mention must be made of the music as well which marries east and west traditions in often subtle ways. Japan has long been used as a backdrop in opera, with Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly perhaps the most well-known. In Iris instruments are adapted to put you in mind of the traditional sounds of Japan, with the playing of the double bass particularly effective – a sort of ‘Kubo & the Four Strings’.

Iris is one of most powerful and moving operas I have seen, a real tour-de-force from everyone involved. Rarely staged today, this was another example of Scottish Opera resurrecting a lost classic and making it vital and relevant for a modern audience. It was directed by Scottish Opera’s Staff Director Roxana Haines and you can hear Roxana talking all about her life, work, and her role in the company on the Scots Whay Hae! podcast from earlier this year, which you’ll find here – The Scottish Opera Interviews #6: Staff Director, Roxana Haines.

You can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #8: Music Librarian, Gordon Grant…

Gordon Grant in Scottish Opera’s Music Library

For the latest in our series of podcasts in conjunction with Scottish Opera SWH! spoke to Gordon Grant, the company’s Music Librarian. What unfolds is a fascinating insight into a role which few consider when they think of opera but which, as you will hear, is a vital one.

Crucially involved in productions from the very beginning to the final curtain fall, Gordon explains what the role entails, how he came to it, the importance of close collaboration, and what are the challenges and constrictions when it comes to the musical score. 

As well as being SO’s librarian Gordon is also in charge of their supertitles, the written translations and text which have become an important part of opera and he explains the technicalities faced. Overall it’s an engrossing conversation which looks in detail at an individual role but which will give you a greater insight into Scottish Opera as a whole.

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, with Spotify, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). 

You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will with you soon.
In the meantime you can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #7: Resident Stage Manager, John Duncan…

John Duncan backstage at The Magic Flute in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal

For the latest in our series of podcasts in conjunction with Scottish Opera we spoke to John Duncan, the company’s Resident Stage Manager. Over the course of the conversation he provides a fascinating insight into a role which is vital to all theatre, but which rarely gets discussed.

Recorded backstage at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal (so beware the passing fire engine) John talks about how he initially fell in love with the theatre, his early years in the role, how the team dynamic works, the different productions he has worked on, the challenges he has faced over the years, a horse named George, and much more. If you have ever wondered what goes on behind the curtain then John has many of the answers.

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, with Spotify, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). 

You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will with you in November.
In the meantime you can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

Passion Play: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Tosca…

Every so often you go to an event where the excitement and anticipation among the audience beforehand is palpable, and that was the case at the opening night of Scottish Opera’s Tosca at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal. You could feel it building in the walk up to the doors and by the time the curtain was raised the atmosphere was electric. With such anticipation this Tosca had a lot to live up to but luckily for all of us it managed to and so much more.

The stage in Act One was set in the Roman church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, and it reflected the wealth of the church itself – using marble greys, sepia, and burnished gold as its main colour palette, every so often given a splash of colour of white and papal purple by visiting cardinals, priests, choirboys, and cross-bearers, as well as the yellow and red of the Swiss Guard. It was an imposing set, made more atmospheric by the way the stage was lit from the side rather than from above, the long shadows cast adding to the sense of foreboding that something wicked was on its way.

That something wicked came in the form of Baron Scarpia, the Chief of Police who is determined to steal famed singer Tosca from the arms of her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, by any means necessary. Played with a real sense of menace by Roland Wood in the finest tradition of the theatrical villain (and proving the adage that “the devil has all the best tunes”), he and his gang of fascisti followers strode the stage as if they owned it. However, even for them there is increasingly the sense that this tale is not going to end well, something only strengthened by the brief appearance of Il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini.

By this point we had already witnessed the depth of feeling that Tosca and Cavaradossi have for each other, with Natalya Romaniw and Gwyn Hughes Jones being at times loving, passionate, playful, jealous, and everything in-between as their love is threatened by circumstances as well as Scarpia’s evil intent. As events unfold they reveal just how far they are prepared to go for each other, and what they believe in. These two characters have the most to suffer, and Romaniw in-particular expressed the highs and lows of being in love in a manner which at times was almost unbearably moving. Hers is a Tosca to whom others will aspire.

This is an especially cinematic production, with a distinct style to each act. Act One had the look and feel of Derek Jarman, with religious iconography and sensuality interweaving, and the passion of the artist to the fore. Act Two had more than a hint of Martin Scorsese, with corruption, violence, and betrayal, looked at with an unflinching and often brutal eye. Act Three, with the stage dominated by a huge statue of an angel at Castel Sant’Angelo, was Wim Wenders meets Powell and Pressburger – the perfect setting for the fatal final acts. Whether you know the story of Tosca or not the end still has the power to move and shock, something which is a testament to everyone involved.

This Tosca is a production to get lost in, to be overcome by and surrender to – resistance is futile. Often with longer pieces of theatre you are aware of audience members checking their watches or shifting in their seats. I didn’t witness one example of this on the night as the audience was rapt from beginning to end, completely absorbed by what was unfolding on stage. If that sounds like something you would like to witness for yourself then you can do so in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, and Edinburgh. If it doesn’t, then go to the top of the page and start reading again. I’m sure you’ll change your mind.

Cosmic Entities: A Review Of Amadeus & The Bard…

In the fourth of our Scottish Opera podcasts we spoke to the Director of Education & Outreach, Jane Davidson who explained the ways SO reach out to all areas of Scotland, and work with all age groups. The latest example of this in practice was Amadeus & the Bard: 18th Century Cosmic Brothers which has just finished a tour some of the High Schools, Academies and museums of Scotland before ending its run in Glasgow.

The final shows were held in Scottish Opera’s Edington Street building, which has a wonderful performance space. The Bard in question is Robert Burns, and he was well represented in body as well as spirit at the performance SWH! attended with at least one fellow national Makar, as well as an actor best known for his portrayal of Burns, in the crowd. They were part of an audience whose aged ranged across the generations, and who were immediately involved with the show, greeted at the door by the players themselves with wonderful musical accompaniment. This, as Burns would have wanted it, was a performance where all were made welcome.

As the title suggests, this was a tale of two geniuses, Burns and Mozart, affectionately referred to as Rabbie and Wolfie. To distinguish them on stage a simple but effective wardrobe technique was applied, with a green coat for Mozart, and a blue one for Burns. The two were compared and contrasted, but it was the similarities of their lives which were the main focus, with Rabbie’s words and Wolfie’s music interweaved throughout.

Born three years apart, both died in their mid-thirties, they achieved fame, if not fortune, for their music (Mozart) and their words (Burns), and are more celebrated today than they had been in their all-too-brief lives. Staged in the convivial setting of Burns’ favourite boozer Poosie Nansie’s, the regulars tell tales of the two men’s lives, loves, and losses – referencing their most famous work as they do so. As matters progress the two stories are brought closer together, until a mash-up of Don Giovanni and ‘Tam O’Shanter’ proves a supernatural and devilish highlight, before a rousing ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’ brings matters to a suitable and moving conclusion with the audience joining in.

With their eagerly-awaited production of Puccini’s Tosca beginning this Wednesday, Amadeus & the Bard: 18th Century Cosmic Brothers was a reminder that while Scottish Opera is rightly known for its spectacular, large-scale productions the work they do on a smaller scale, all around the country, should be acknowledged and supported, and on this showing, and the reaction to the current ‘Opera Highlights Tour‘ (SWH! review here), they are rightly receiving both.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #6: Staff Director, Roxana Haines

Roxana Haines. © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

For the sixth in our series of podcasts in conjunction with Scottish Opera Ali spoke to Staff Director, Roxana Haines. It’s a fascinating and informative discussion with someone whose job brings her into contact and collaboration with most areas of the company.

Roxana explains her professional journey, her training in theatre and how that translates to the specific demands of opera, her role in terms of productions and the challenges that different ones bring – with particular reference to the current ‘Opera Highlights Tour‘ and the opera for young children ‘Fox-tot!‘ – and a lot more.

Through it all her enthusiasm and love for what she does shines through, and we hope you enjoy listening to the conversation as much as we did recording it.

Roxana with the cast of Fox-tot!

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, with Spotify, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). 

You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will with you in November.
In the meantime you can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #5: Head of Props, Marian Colquhoun

For the fifth in our series of podcasts with members of Scottish Opera we spoke to Marian Colquhoun, the Head of Props. If you have ever been to a Scottish Opera performance, no matter the scale of the production, you’ll know what an integral, important, and creative part the props department have to play.

Marian discusses her approach to the role, the collaboration with other departments, the joy in creating memorable moments, the demands of different productions, the practicalities and problem solving involved, and the culture of prop making in Scotland and beyond. It’s a fascinating insight into an area of the arts that is rarely discussed but which is crucial to opera, theatre, film, and beyond.

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of Scots Whay Hae! podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). 

You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will be out in late October.

In the meantime you can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

On The Road Again: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s 2019 Autumn Highlights…

The Scottish Opera Highlights tour has quickly become an annual musical must-see. Taking opera around the country, this season they go from Motherwell to Musselburgh with multiple stops in-between. This was the opening night at Motherwell Theatre and it had a lot to live up to as previous tours have been notable and memorable events. It clear from the get-go that there was no need for concern as this set of highlights may just be the most magical yet.

From the beginning, with the singers emerging from among us, there was a real connection between the stage and audience which remained throughout. The premise of the show was one familiar to any Agatha Christie fan, with invited guests turning up at an event with no host to be found. The cast construct the set as they go, lending the performance a real sense of “let’s do the show right here”, but there’s nothing amatuer about what follows.

As any one who has been to an Opera Highlights show before will know, the premise is a simple one with four of the company’s finest singers, accompanied by piano, performing scenes from a variety of operas, this time united loosely under common themes of love and nature. At the beginning there is a sense of strong sense of fun and farce about proceedings, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ meets Moliere – a comedy of errors with lovers mistaken for others, and practical jokes gone wrong.

But as events unfold the comedy is interspersed with more serious meditations on love, and even obsession. The wonderfully varied programme features the work of Mozart, Handel, Britten, Vaughan Williams and Gilbert & Sullivan, as well as less well-known names such as Mildred Jessup, Leo Delibes, Carlisle Floyd and Aaron Copland, and there is also new work from Scottish Opera’s Composer in Residence Samuel Bordoli.

Soprano Charlie Drummond, Mezzo-soprano Martha Jones, Tenor Alex Bevan & Baritone Mark Nathan work beautifully together, prompting laughs and tears in all the right places. Proving themselves to be as talented actors as they are singers, they played each scene to perfection. It is rare to see performers so clearly enjoying what they do as was evident on this night, and the audience responded in kind. It would be wrong to single any individual out as this was a truly ensemble performance, although it should be said that Alex Bevan gives good horse!

If you haven’t yet been to one of these nights then I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you already love opera than it’s a chance to sit through an evening of some of your favourites as well as discovering something new. If you think opera isn’t your cup of tea then this is the perfect place to discover that it is. You have nothing to lose and a whole new world to discover. Check out all the details at the Scottish Opera website to find out when they are coming to a venue near you. If you’re a music lover then I can’t think of a better way to spend two hours.

Here are some images from the show:

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

You can listen to our ongoing series of podcasts which are interviews with members of Scottish Opera discussing and explaining their roles in the company – Scottish Opera Podcasts.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #3: Programme Editor, David Kettle

For the third of our series of podcasts with members of Scottish Opera we spoke to the Programme Editor, David Kettle about his role and what it entails. He explains how he came to the job, the approach to writing a programme, the balance required between information and other articles and content, the collaboration required with the rest of the company, and much more.

If you have ever wondered, or even if you haven’t, how Scottish Opera’s beautiful programmes are put together then your questions are answered here. Below are just three examples that David has been involved with.

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). 

You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will be out in late August.

You can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #2: Head Of Music, Derek Clark

For the second of our series of podcasts with members of Scottish Opera we spoke to the Head of Music, Derek Clark about his role and what the job entails. Derek talks about the how he came to the job, how it has changed over the years, and how it is essential to Scottish Opera.

He discusses programming, collaboration, and the difference between approaching contemporary work and the classics. It’s a fascinating insight into the working life of someone central to Scottish Opera and their productions.

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). 

You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will be with Programme Editor David Kettle and it will be out in late July…

You can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.