That’s Entertainment: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s The Magic Flute…

Few operas have found their way into popular culture in the manner of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. From Neil Gaiman’s adaptation of Papageno’s bird catcher for the character Old Bailey in his novel Neverwhere, Whitney Houston claiming she is the ‘Queen of the Night’ in the movie The Bodyguard, and with music which has been used to sell everything from cars to contraception, it’s influence has spread far and wide. This is something which Scottish Opera’s revival of their 2012 production plays with beautifully.

It embraces the aesthetic of steampunk fully. If you know the graphic novels of Alan Moore’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or films such as Brazil, Howl’s Moving Castle, or the recent Mortal Engines, you’ll have some idea of the look and feel. In fact the wizard Sarastro can be described as a mix of The Matrix’s Morpheus and Kenneth Branagh’s Dr. Arliss Loveless from the otherwise forgettable Wild Wild West.

Throw in minions who seem to be a marriage of Disney’s Minions & Tik Tok from Return To Oz, a dragon which is more H.G. Wells than Game Of Thrones, and strange men in top hats who watch over proceedings, and it’s clear that everyone has risen to the challenge to offer up a production which is as much a treat for the eyes as for the ears. Those involved with stage, costume, lighting and props should take a well-deserved bow.

But for all the magic and magnificence of the staging what runs through this production is heart, humanity and humour. Central to this is Richard Burkhard’s Papageno who represents the everyman, the link between the audience and the stage, (the ‘Buttons’ character, so to speak – see more below), whose mistakes and mishaps are all too recognisable, and who reminds us that while not everyone can be a hero, they still deserve love.

There is more than a touch of pantomime about The Magic Flute with a prince and a princess, a wicked Queen, slapstick and farce, playing to the gallery, and (*Spoiler*) happy endings for most by the time the curtain falls. As such it is easy to explain its continued popularity, regarded by many as the opera for all the family, and there is an excellent piece in the programme by Paul Maloney which sets out the influence on vaudeville and music hall.

If you’ve been looking to introduce someone to the joys of opera, then Scottish Opera’s The Magic Flute is the perfect choice. If that someone is you, then why not give it a chance. I guarantee you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

Thanks to Scottish Opera for use of the following images:
Credit – James Glossop

Tour Dates:

Theatre Royal – GLASGOW Tue 14 May to Sat 18 May BOOK TICKETS

Eden Court – INVERNESS Tue 21 May to Sat 25 May BOOK TICKETS

His Majesty’s Theatre – ABERDEEN Thu 30 May – Sat 1 Jun BOOK TICKETS

Festival Theatre – EDINBURGH Wed 5 Jun to Sat 15 Jun BOOK TICKETS

Hackney Empire – LONDON Thu 20 Jun to Sat 22 Jun BOOK TICKETS

Belfast Grand Opera House – BELFAST Thu 27 Jun – Sat 29 Jun BOOK TICKETS

Sunday Service: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Silvano…

2019/20 Programme

A quick look at Scottish Opera’s 2019/20 programme (right) makes it clear that the company are reaching for a balance between the old and the new, the classic and the experimental, the expected and the unexpected. It’s a tough act to pull off as there will be those who think that a national company should concentrate on the tried and tested. Others will think their remit should be groundbreaking and challenging. While you can’t please all of the people all of the time, Scottish Opera give it a good go.

While the coming season has productions of Puccini’s Tosca, Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, there is also the promise of John Adams’ Nixon In China, an original piece called Amadeus & The Bard which looks at the similarities between Mozart and Robert Burns, and, most intriguing of all, Missy Mazzoli’s adaptation of Lars Von Trier’s controversial film Breaking The Waves. Add to those the Opera Highlights Tour, the Scottish Opera Young Company production of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, children’s opera Fox-Tot!, and various pop-up events, and you can see that there is something for everyone, but also everything for some of us, reaffirming Scottish Opera’s reputation as a company of national and international renown.

And I haven’t yet mentioned the Opera in Concert series which puts the Orchestra (conducted by musical director Stuart Stratford) centre stage. The latest of these was at Glasgow’s City Halls on Sunday, the rarely performed Silvano. It is a dramma marinaresco, literally translated as a “seafaring drama”, by the Italian composer Pietro Mascagnic – a classic love-triangle, which, if literature, poetry, and country & western music has taught us anything, never ends well. Set at the Adriatic coast in central Italy, the plot revolves around the rivalry of two fishermen who are in love with the same woman. The drama climaxes in a duel which ends, unsurprisingly, in tragedy.

In many ways this is opera in its purest form. Being able to see as well as hear the majestic music that the orchestra makes, and the skill and passion with which they make it, is a rare treat. This style of concert is one for music lovers as you also get to concentrate on the power and purity of trained opera singers’ voices. Aexey Dolgov as Silvano, David Stout as Renzo, and Leah-Marian Jones as Rosa were all magnificent, but when Emma Bell hit the high notes as Matilde you feared for the City Halls very foundations. With strong support from the chorus in the balcony, this was a tour de force of orchestration and performance.

I have been attending and reviewing Scottish Opera for almost four years now and I can honestly say I haven’t yet had a bad experience, and more often than not have had an unforgettable one. You can find out more about what the coming season holds over at Scottish Opera, and I urge you to take a look at what’s on offer and, if you haven’t yet done so, take a chance on at least one of the shows. If you’re anything like me you won’t look back.

Elysian Feels: A Review Of SOYC’s Orfeo & Euridice…

SOYC’s Orfeo & Eurdice

It felt apt that the Scottish Opera Young Company‘s production of Gluck’s Orfeo & Euridice was staged in Greenock as the journey down the River Styx towards the Underworld is how many locals view the similar journey towards Glasgow up the River Clyde. Certainly the backdrop used in the first act looked suspiciously familiar to those who know that part of the world.

This allusion, deliberate or otherwise, was only one of the impressive and inspired aspects in this production. If any theatre company wanted a lesson in how to make their work look spectacular, while making a little go a long way, then they need look no further. The use of colours, costume, and even cloth, were all used to tell the story simply yet effectively.

The stage was alive with blues, reds, and silver – all indicating who was who and what they signified. White veils for the wedding party, black for mourners, silver masks to hide identities, and simple ropes and drapes used as shrouds, shackles, and more. With reflective surfaces coming and going, and an ingenious use of lighting, the attention of the audience was kept throughout. You couldn’t look away for fear of missing something.

And this was apt as ‘looking’ or ‘the gaze’ is a key theme to the story of
Orfeo & Euridice. As with the myths of Narcissus, Medusa, Diana and Acteon, or even the fate of Lot’s wife in the Book of Genesis, forbidden glances, and defying deities, can only end badly. The inventive staging used this to full advantage, breaking the fourth wall by forcing the audience to become part of the performance, made aware of their own presence as blurred faces on the stage.

The other key to audience engagement was the pace that the story unfolds. There was little scene setting as wedding day quickly turns to tragedy before Orfeo begins his heroic journey to rescue Euridice. Although there were nominally three acts the storytelling felt seamless – told as concisely and precisely as possible.

Daniel Keating-Roberts’ Orfeo, (centre stage for the majority of the time), had to hold his own despite so much going on but he did so with aplomb, and the three Cupids stood out not only because of their silver suits, but because each brought a distinct personality to the role. However to single out individuals seems wrong as the whole cast, from Cupids to Chorus (and dancer Kay Davis) came together to deliver a true ensemble performance.

It was easy to forget, and indeed I didn’t give it a thought throughout, that this was the Scottish Opera Young Company on stage, and that tells you all you need to know. Suffice to say, it appears that the future of Scottish Opera is in safe hands

Thanks to Scottish Opera for the use of the images – credit to Julie Broadfoot.

Further details can be found on the Company’s home page, and the most recent SWH! podcast is an interview with SOYC artistic director Jonathon Swinard where he talks about the company and his role.
You can find the podcast here, or listen below:


The Scottish Opera Interviews #1: SOYC Artistic Director Jonathon Swinard…

For the latest podcast Ali headed to the home of Scottish Opera in central Glasgow to talk to Jonathon Swinard, the new Artistic Director of the Scottish Opera Young Company (SOYC) ahead of their production of Gluck’s Orfeo & Euridice (see right) at the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock.

Over the past few years Scots Whay Hae! has reviewed many of Scottish Opera’s productions so it was a pleasure to talk to someone at the heart of the company, especially one whose concentration is on youth and the talent of tomorrow. 

As Jonathon explains, the Young Company offers the opportunity for the next generation to perform on stage, work with an orchestra, and hone their craft helping to create a legacy with real impact. The two discuss the aims of SOYC and Jonathon’s role in achieving those, overcoming preconceptions, and how Scottish Opera is managing to reach out to all ages and areas in Scotland.

Although shorter than usual, it’s a podcast which manages to pack a lot in offering a rare and fascinating insight into one of Scotland’s cultural institutions, and we hope it will encourage you to give Opera a try if you haven’t already.

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:

Thanks to Scottish Opera’s Press Officer, Emma Ainley-Walker, for arranging the interview with Jonathon, and credit to Sally Jubb for some of the images used.

Our next podcast will be with you soon, so don’t go too far…

 

On The Level: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Katya Kabanova…

Sometimes you leave a theatre knowing that what you have just witnessed was something special. That was undoubtedly the case with Scottish Opera’s opening night of Janáček’s Katya Kabanova. It’s one of those rare productions where everything comes together to make something magical. The score, the story, the musicians, the singing, the acting (often overlooked in opera), the lighting, the costumes, and the set (& boy, what a set!) were all in complete and wonderful harmony to create a world so enthralling that to witness it felt a privilege.

Does that sound over the top? I urge you to go and see for yourself and tell me I’m wrong – and you should as it’s an experience to be shared as widely as possible. Let me try and break it down further, for my own benefit as much as for yourself. First, the story. Although I write about and review Scottish writing on this site my first loves are the 19th century Russians, and although Janáček is Czech, Katya Kabanova is planted firmly in Mother Russia.

If you know the works of Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy, (or if you have seen the Woody Allen film Love & Death), you’ll be familiar with the themes of unrequited or thwarted love leading to tragedy, existential crisis, familial machinations (mothers-in-laws often get a bad press) and the fickle and often infuriating nature of man. New industry is often in conflict with the old, and new values also challenge the status quo. Katya Kabanova captures all of this completely. There are even fields of wheat on stage – a recurring and significant image in Russian literature – and like those classic novels Janáček, and Scottish Opera, have created a world in which to immerse yourself.

If I was to say that this is an opera which works on many levels then I mean you to take that metaphorically, but also literally. The set is dominated by a two-way bridge which moves and morphs throughout, not unlike an Escher picture brought to life. If there were ever a theatre adaptation of Iain Banks’ novel The Bridge then they need look no further for inspiration for the centre piece. Reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s drawings for the Nostromo spaceship in the first Alien movie, with the same heft and otherworldliness, it made me think of the theatre of Robert LePage and I can give no higher praise than that.

Beneath the bridge are the marshlands and mud-fields where the hard work is done, assignations are made, and people come to lose themselves while those higher up go busily about their day and are usually too busy to notice what is beneath them. Visually, when put together, it’s an incredible achievement, so much so that at times you could forget that what you are watching is not on a screen but on stage. This is opera as spectacle, but it never threatens to overshadow the characters and performers. Indeed, it seems to bring out the best in them.

Although the leads were superb, especially Laura Wilde as Kátya Kabanová and Patricia Bardon as Kabanicha, this was an ensemble piece as every member of cast played their role, and when married to the music what was created was an all-out assault on the senses in the best possible way. When a particular dramatic event happened near the end there was a collective intake of breath from an audience who were rapt throughout.

All of the above is really just a long and detailed way of saying that this is a production not to miss. It is another example of Scottish Opera being a company to treasure as whether it’s their Opera Highlights show in Victoria Hall in Dunblane (as they are tonight) or something with the scale and ambition of Kátya Kabanová they always deliver. Scottish Opera are at the top of their game right now, and we should be thankful for that.

Thanks to Scottish Opera for the use of these images – Credit James Glossop

The Best Of All Possible Worlds: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Highlights Tour 2019…

SPRING 2019 OPERA HIGHLIGHTS 
Touring to 18 venues across Scotland

Over the last few years Scottish Opera has been taking to the highways and byways of Scotland bringing their Opera Highlights Tour to villages and towns, schools halls, community centres, and local theatres across the country. It’s a deceptively simple premise with four singers and a piano presenting various highlights from a wide range of operas framed around one uniting premise.

This time around Musical Director and pianist Elizabeth Rowe is joined by mezzo-soprano Heather Ireson, soprano Lucy Anderson, baritone Harry Thatcher and tenor Tom Smith.  From Handel’s Rodelinda (1725) to Jonathan Dove’s Flight (1998) and visiting, among others, Mozart, Bizet, Wagner, Handel, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Gershwin & Weill along the way, they present a wide range of styles and themes which give a wonderfully diverse overview of what opera has to offer.

Scots Whay Hae! were at the Cumbernauld Theatre for the latest stop on 2019’s tour. Having seen the last three tours there were no doubts it would be a memorable evening, and that was proved right. The setlist this time around is built on the idea of the picaresque novel. The episodic structure of that format, and it’s often satirical content, is perfect for such a show allowing the leitmotifs of heroes, villains, love, longing and loss to come to the fore, and the cast revel in them.

A particular treat for audiences on such nights is to be so up close and personal with the performers, able to see and appreciate ever smile, smirk, and sideways glance much better than you could ever do in a larger space, which worked particularly well for the more comedic moments. What you also get is the full power of these incredible trained and professional voices. They are impressive enough when on their own, or in duet, but when all four work together, as in the ‘Garden Scene’ from Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana, or the opening ‘The Best Of All Possible Worlds’ from Leonard Bernstein’s adaptation of Voltaire’s Candide, then the effect is visceral and wonderful.

Indeed it is ‘Candide’, arguably the quintessential picaresque novella, that seemed to infuse the spirit of the whole evening. Published in 1759, and written to satirise the central optimistic/naive tenet of the 17th century philosopher Leibniz, (paraphrased in the words of Candide’s teacher and mentor ‘Dr Pangloss’ that, “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds”), its arguments against such a quixotic attitude are as relevant today as they are in any time of turmoil. With poignant references to the modern world director Sara Brodie makes sure that the spirit of Voltaire runs throughout.

Below are some pictures of the production, as well as the future dates of the tour with links as to where you can buy tickets. Don’t miss out…

With thanks to Scottish Opera for the images – Credit to Sally Jubb

Tour Dates:
Craignish Village Hall, ARDFERN, Tue 12 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Northbay Hall, ISLE OF BARRA, Thu 14 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Liniclate School, BENBECULA, Sat 16 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Tarbert Community Centre, ISLE OF HARRIS, Tue 19 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Community Hall, GAIRLOCH, Thu 21 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Community Hall, ARDROSS, Sat 23 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Volunteer Hall, DUNS, Tue 26 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Blairgowrie Town Hall, BLAIRGOWRIE, Thu 28 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Town Hall, MAYBOLE, Sat 2 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Village Hall, DURNESS, Tue 5 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Deeside Theatre, ABOYNE, Sat 9 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Boat of Garten Community Hall, BOAT OF GARTEN, Thu 7 Mar
BOOK TICKETS

Whiting Bay Village Hall, WHITING BAY, Tue 12 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Victoria Hall, DUNBLANE, Thu 14 Mar BOOK TICKETS

The Wynd Auditorium, PAISLEY, Sat 16 Mar BOOK TICKETS

There Will Be Blood: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Anthropocene…

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The first opera I reviewed for Scots Whay Hae! was Scottish Opera’s The Devil Inside, an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp, which was a collaboration between writer Louise Welsh and composer Stuart Macrae. Not only was it a wonderful marriage between Scottish literature and opera, but it introduced me to an art form about which I had previously known little but have now come to love. With that in mind I was excited by the prospect of Welsh and Macrae’s latest opera, Anthropocene. This time around it is an original story, and knowing Louise’s written work well I expected the unexpected. What I didn’t expect was what unfolded.

One of the things I have come to learn about opera is that it is more often than not a wonderful yet visceral assault on the senses – the sights, sounds, sets, and singing combining to affect you emotionally, but also physically. This makes it the perfect platform for Welsh’s gothic sensibilities and Macrae’s memorable music. Anthropocene is a horror story set on the boat of the same name which is on an exploratory voyage into the heart of the Arctic, with the ice closing in making the disparate crew prisoners. Continue reading

Tour De Force: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Opera Highlights…

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For the last few years Scottish Opera have been taking to the highways and byways of Scotland with their Opera Highlights show. Last night was the premiere of the 2018 show, and it’s safe to say that they have surpassed themselves, with director Daisy Evans putting together the perfect programme to introduce opera to those who may not be familiar with the genre, while keeping the die-hard fans happy – and how.

The structure could not have been more suitable. A lone woman (non-singing actor Hannah Birkin) sits on stage at her laptop as the audience enter. The music began with an eclectic and entertaining run through a selection of tunes played by Jonathon Swinard, the show’s musical director. Then the four singers arrived, dressed unmistakably in the individual colours of the Google sign. They take the mystery woman, and the audience, through a tour de force of opera, answering, as they go, the most commonly asked questions by those for whom the ways of opera are a mystery. Continue reading

Cheers For A Clown: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Pagliacci…

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5232Every now and then, and not very often, a piece of theatre comes along which blows you away. My own favourites include The Tiger Lillies’ Shockheaded Peter,  Robert Lepage’s Elsinore (his take on Hamlet), and David Greig’s adaption of Lanark: A Life In Three ActsTo those I can now happily add Scottish Opera’s production of Pagliacci.

Staged in a circus tent in a sports field in Paisley, it was the sort of magical evening which will live forever in the memory, and by the smiles on the faces of those around me I would say that feeling was shared.

Pagliacci is arguably the classic tragicomedy, one which is often referenced in popular culture – the Seinfeld episode ‘The Opera’, The Simpsons, Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, and the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ song ‘Tears Of A Clown’ being just a few examples – so even if you don’t know the story you are likely aware of the iconography. Scottish Opera set the tone for the evening by having dressing-up boxes, fun-fair games, a Punch & Judy show, and even a donkey, for people to interact with before the performance began. With the orchestra dressed in their civvies, and people in fancy dress and face-paint, this was the most relaxed atmosphere imaginable. Continue reading

Passion Plays: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Sunday Series – Rachmaninov’s Aleko and Francesca Da Rimini…

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Yesterday (Sunday 6th May) saw the last in the current run of Scottish Opera‘s Sunday Series: Opera In Concert, and, as with the previous concerts of the 2017/18 season, it came from Russia. This time around it was a double bill of Rachmaninov’s one-act operas, Aleko and Francesca Da Rimini, and what a way to finish what has been a breathtaking season. As with the recently reviewed Eugene Onegin, these operas were packed full of passion, with familiar themes of love, regret, the vibrancy of youth, the cruel passing of time, but now there was added murder, betrayal, sizzling affairs, sibling rivalry, damnation, and a journey into hell. It’s what Sunday’s are all about.

The parallels between these two operas and Eugene Onegin are marked, with Aleko being based upon another, lesser known, Pushkin poem, The Gypsies (which some consider an influence on Carmen), while Francesca Da Rimini (given its Scottish premiere here) has a libretto from Tchaikovsky’s brother, the brilliantly monikered ‘Modest’. The former opera is about the traveller, Aleko, who falls in love with the gypsy woman, Zemfira. As her love for him fades she gives her heart to another, younger, suitor, and when Aleko finds out… Well, let’s just say things don’t end well.  Continue reading