Tag Archives: Andrew McTaggart

REVIEW: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Woodside Hall, Glasgow

In the atmospheric surroundings of Glasgow’s Woodside Hall, Psycho-like screeching strings from the barefoot orchestra clad in Edwardian garb and flashing strings of fairground lights, transport the audience back to turn of the century and the world of Dr. Caligari.

Taking as its inspiration the 1920 silent movie classic of the same name, Scottish Opera’s Connect company’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari moves back in time to 1901 and resets the action to Glasgow instead of Germany.

Francis takes his girlfriend Jane and her best friend Ellen to the fair at Glasgow Green, among the fortune tellers and snake oil salesmen, in his Cabinet of Fate, Dr Gallagher presents a somnambulist, Cesare who can predict the future while in his sleeping state. When Cesare’s prophecy that Ellen will die that very night comes true, and Francis comes under suspicion for the murder, he and Jane begin to investigate with devastating consequences.

Under Julie Brown’s sure-footed direction, and enhanced by Lisa Sangster’s set and Kate Bonney’s lighting design, a comprehensive cast of characters colour the stage in Karen MacIver and Allan Dunn’s atmospheric and melodic work. The music and libretto are compelling throughout and its short running time (around 75 minutes) ensures that the audience is gripped from start to finish.

Despite the small size of the performance venue there are issues with projection from the young company who are often overwhelmed by the fine-sounding orchestra and dialogue is lost in several places, however, in the cast of 32 there are some stand-out performances which bode well for the future of opera in Scotland. Previous Scottish Opera Emerging Artists Andrew McTaggart and Sarah Power’s experience clearly shows, both delivering strong vocal performances as Caligari/Gallagher and Jane, the female chorus too are beautifully harmonious. Young tenor Glen Cunningham shows promise but needs to work on projecting his melodious voice and as Cesare, Daniel Keating Roberts provides novelty with his countertenor voice, but is somewhat lacking in his delivery.

Scottish Opera’s Connect programme provides the only opportunity for young Scottish musicians aged 14-21 to explore the world of opera and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is the third world premier in eight years for Connect. The company’s commitment to innovation and the creation of new work must be applauded and if future works are of as high quality and as engaging and entertaining as Caligari then the future of opera in Scotland looks bright.

 

REVIEW: Carmen, Scottish Opera – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Its accessibility; clarity of narrative; portrayal of an independent, strong-minded woman and a clutch of knockout, familiar tunes make Georges Bizet’s Carmen undoubtedly one of the best-loved operas of all time and certainly one of the most frequently performed (though, surprisingly not in Scotland*).

Scottish Opera present a re-working of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 1999 staging of the work. Forming a bridge between the era of Opéra Comique and the realism of the later 19th Century Italian opera, Carmen is the perfect first opera. Bizet’s skill in representing character through music, the clear, linear narrative and the block-busting tunes, rarely fail to entrance.

Scottish Opera have delivered a solid, traditional and atmospheric production with a top-notch cast. Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Justina Gringyte is impressive as the head-strong gypsy temptress and her powerful voice does full justice to Bizet’s glorious score. Noah Stewart is velvet-voiced as the wronged Don Jose, and Roland Wood a solid, if unremarkable Escamillo. Nadine Livingstone is a beautiful sounding Micaela, but her tendency to whimper too much fails to gain the audiences sympathy and the chemistry between her and Stewart’s Don Jose is non-existent. There’s strong support from the other featured roles, in particular, Timothy Dickinson who delivers a memorable Zuniga.

The choruses both child and adult (especially the chain-smoking, primary school aged tykes, blowing smoke with an attitude and insouciance that belies their years) are glorious and produce a rich sound that is a treat for the ears.

This is a strong, solid staging of a much-loved work and a perfect introduction to opera for those wanting to dip their toe in the water.

Carmen tours Scotland throughout October and November details at: Scottish Opera

*Carmen was not performed in its original Fench in Scotland until 1977.

REVIEW: La traviata – Scottish Opera, Town House, Hamilton

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Violetta, a famed escort, leads a seemingly charmed existence amidst the cream of Paris society. But, in fragile health, she is tired of living an empty life and when Alfredo introduces himself she finally sees a way out of her tawdry lifestyle. Deeply in love, all is blissful contentment until some home truths convince her to leave Alfredo and head back into the arms of another…

La traviata/The Fallen Woman

Opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Alexandre Dumas’ play La dame aux camelias

Sung in English translation by Edmund Tracey

Performed in an orchestral reduction by Tony Burke

This new production of Verdi’s beloved tearjerker is part of Scottish Opera’s 50th anniversary celebrations, an unprecedented 50 date tour across the country fulfilling the company’s promise to bring Opera to the whole of Scotland no matter how remote. This production re-imagined in 1950’s Paris aims to get to the heart of the story by concentrating on the turbulent relationship at its core.

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Robyn Lyn Evans as Alfredo Germont and Elin Pritchard as Violetta Valery

Though enjoyable in parts and laudable in its aim to make opera accessible to the masses, this production is not without its flaws. The decision to sing it in English made it no more accessible than it would have been sung its original Italian with surtitles: Elin Pritchard in the principle role of Violetta is a fine singer however the nature of her and indeed any other sopranos voice, means that at the highest end of its range every word is changed to mere sound, losing all meaning, only the male singers (and not all of them) were, in any way understandable, though praise must go to Robyn Lyn Evans as Alfredo who possessed the most impressive vocals of the evening and the most convincing acting skills.

The truncation of the storyline also meant that anyone not already familiar with the tale, would be lost. That said, the programme is of  impressive quality providing comprehensive and essential notes on the production, and is an entertaining, informative and well-written read. However the length of the notes meant that it was impossible to read them in the minutes between taking your seat and the production beginning (the interval chatter from many saying that they wished they had time to read the notes beforehand as they might have had a chance of understanding what was going on).

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The 18 piece chamber orchestra sounded tight and strong throughout, however the same could not be said for the singers; in this 700+ seat venue the sound was at times lost and some of the blame I fear must be laid at the door of the “shoebox” set. Though clever in its design and pleasing to the eye, it seemed to smother much of the sound. There were also some uncomfortably lengthy scene changes which left the audience somewhat restless.

The costume design also failed to truly reflect the setting; the sharper suits of the men were era-appropriate as were the “New Look” designs of Kathryn McAdam’s characters Flora and Annina, though the top hats and capes of the men in evening dress were more of a nod to the Opera’s origins and Violetta’s long-flowing Pre-Raphaelite curled locks and 80’s style dresses were an avoidable annoyance given the size of the wig and wardrobe departments of this national company.

The intention of Scottish Opera to “bring the widest possible range of opera, performed to the highest possible standards, to the maximum audience throughout Scotland” is laudable however I fear a little more thought and care needs to go into matching the staging to these many and varied venues in order to maximise the quality of experience.