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

Love & Regret: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Eugene Onegin…

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I have written a few reviews of Scottish Opera productions, and they are more often than not along the lines of “I may not know a lot about opera, but here’s what I liked”. With their latest opera, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene OneginI at least can claim to know the source material, Alexander Pushkin’s 1833 ‘verse novel’ of the same name, which is arguably (and I will argue it) one of the greatest treatise on the nature of love ever written.

This makes it the perfect story for opera, something which Tchaikovsky clearly understood. He was nicknamed ‘the little Pushkin’ as a child by his governess, so it is perhaps unsurprising that he felt an affinity with this Russian writer in particular, but, with its themes of love, regret, vanity, obsession, selfishness, the passing of time and youth, duty, ennui, and passion vs convention, it is perhaps more suitable for realists rather than romantics.  Continue reading

Tsars On Sunday: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s From Russia With Love…

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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. Continue reading

Singing On The Train: A Review Of Four Singers & A Pianist – Scottish Opera’s Highlights Show…

Scottish Opera is hitting the rails, and they’ll be doing so at a venue near you from 16th Feb – 18th Mar, traversing the Borders to the Highlands and Islands, and moving from the west coast to the east. The show is Four Singers & A Pianist and it is their annual Highlights show which has gained a reputation for being an essential event for music lovers.

Having been lucky enough to be in attendance at Easterhouse’s Platform for their first night I can confirm that this reputation will only be enhanced this year. The structure of the show is that four singers are on a train about to undertake a tour of Scotland, visiting the lesser visited corners of the country to spread the word and the music, when problems beset them. Taking classic and lesser known works, they weave them together to show off not only the breadth of music opera has to offer, but also allowing the performers’ to shine. Continue reading

Judge Dread: A Review Of Philip Glass’s The Trial…

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It’s difficult to think of a more apt time for Philip Glass’s take on Franz Kafka’s infamous 1925 novel The Trial to arrive in theatres. When a new American President is promising to refill Guantanamo Bay with inmates based on who they are rather than what they’ve done, the story of Josef K, a man who is arrested on his 30th birthday for a never specified crime, is one which carries a warning which will already be too late for some.

Glass’s ‘Trial’ is a co-production between Scottish Opera, Music Theatre Wales, The Royal Opera and Theater Magdeburg, and it is a great advert for European cultural collaboration. It opens in Josef K’s bedroom, a sparse set which will be subtly and inventively used throughout. Josef is awoken by two agents who appear to be the evil doppelgängers of Herge’s Thompson Twins from the Tintin books, with their bowler hats and wry moustaches. They are here to arrest him, but cannot tell him what for or who has accused him, something that Josef, after initial shock, takes lightly at first. But as the year unfolds, and his ‘trial’ begins, the seriousness of his situation begins to dawn. Is he an innocent man? Kafka asks which one of us can honestly claim to be, and that is part of the terror of this tale. Continue reading

One Green Bottle: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s The Devil Inside…

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In 2013, Scots Whay Hae! and the Association Of Scottish Literary Studies collaborated in a series of recordings to commemorate Robert Louis Stevenson Day. Writers Alan Bissett, James Robertson and Louise Welsh read a Stevenson short story each; ‘Thrawn Janet’, The Tale Of Tod Lapraik’ and ‘The Bottle Imp’ respectively. ‘The Bottle Imp’ was already a favourite for Welsh, but reading it aloud must have bonded her more closely with the malevolent sprite as it appears she couldn’t leave it alone for long. She had to return to it at least one more time.

The result, in collaboration with composer Stuart Macrae, is Scottish Opera’s co-production with The Music Theatre of Wales, The Devil Inside, a dark, unsettling and unexpectedly moving production, which opened in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal this week. It is mesmerizing from start to end as words, music, performance and setting all work together to present this deceptively simple tale in such a manner so that the unfolding horror is heightened rather than unnecessarily distracted from.

Continue reading