Tag Archives: Hazel McBain

REVIEW: Scottish Opera: The Trial – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

The nightmarish world of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, a world of surveillance, authoritarian power and injustice, was a work of paranoid fantasy when it was written in 1914/15. However, in 2017, the subject matter of this modernist masterpiece, has proven to have an eerie prescience.

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Philip Glass’s 20th opera, a co-production between Music Theatre Wales, The Royal Opera, Theatre Magdeburg and Scottish Opera, faithfully follows Kafka’s original text, thanks to its pin-sharp libretto by Oscar-winner Christopher Hampton. Enhanced by its innovative score by Glass, this is opera for non-opera goers.

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In this surreal tale, it’s the morning of his 30th birthday, and the unsuspecting Josef K is arrested for an unspecified crime. Initially disbelieving, he refuses to think that this could end any other way but well, but those closest to him urge him to take the charges seriously. As time ticks ominously by, and confronted by a parade of unpredictable characters and absurd situations, (including a web-fingered maid, a portrait artist, lawyers, court officials and a pair of guards that are dead ringers for Tin Tin’s the Thompson Twins) he increasingly realises that this nightmare may be one from which he can never escape.

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There’s a danger that Kafka’s bleak story (though one that is blackly comic) coupled with Glass’s (in his own words) “music with repetitive structures”, played out on a minimalistic set, could be entirely one-dimensional, but it manages to be grippingly atmospheric. There are flashes of the great Bernard Herrmann in Glass’s score and the music matches the mood of the piece perfectly, a menacing bass line ramping up the discomfort throughout.

Sung in English, The Trial’s accessibility is one of its strengths, that and the talented eight-strong cast. Sure-footed and fine-voiced, Nicholas Lester delivers a well-judged Josef K, veering between nonchalance and despair perfectly. Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Elgin Llyr Thomas makes his mark too, a singer with a successful future ahead of him, he shines brightly in the array of roles he’s charged with tackling.

Scottish Opera’s first production of 2017 perfectly showcases the diverse repertoire the company is increasingly becoming known for.and long may it continue.

Next up for the company is Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, a Sunday Series concert performance of L’Enfant Prodigue, a lesser-seen Debussy work and the much-loved Opera Highlights tour.

For more information visit: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/

REVIEW: L’amico Fritz – The Sunday Series: Opera in Concert

Scottish Opera’s music director Stuart Stratford starts this year’s Sunday Series on a high note with an outstanding concert performance of Pietro Mascagni’s rarely seen, but utterly charming bucolic tale of unrequited love, L’amico Fritz.

Written after his verismo masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana, Mascagni’s intention was to write a work as far removed from Cavalleria as he could and in L’amico, that is absolutely achieved, this is a simple, gentle, pastoral love story – there’s none of Cavalleria’s bloodshed and the body count is nil. It’s 19th Century, pre Franco-Prussia War Alsace where the Protestant and Jewish communities live in blissful harmony. Rabbi and local matchmaker David bets his friend, the marriage phobic, wealthy landowner Fritz Kobus that he will succumb, within the year, to the charms of married life. In the meantime Fritz falls in love with Suzette, the daughter of one of his tenants and a happy ending is guaranteed for all.

Stuart Stratford has previous form with L’amico, conducting a fully staged performance for Opera Holland Park in 2011, and his familiarity with, and love for the piece shines through. The Orchestra of Scottish Opera freed from the pit and onstage in their purpose-built acoustic shell, have rarely sounded better, the gorgeous melodies and beautiful lyricism of the piece are a ravishing treat for the ears. The singers are universally deserving of praise, with Peter Auty’s Fritz, Stephen Gadd’s David and Hanna Hipp in another ‘trouser role’ particularly fine.

If the glorious L’amico Fritz is a marker of the quality to be expected for the rest of the Sunday Series, then opera lovers in Scotland are in for a treat indeed.

The next offering from the Sunday Series will be Debussy’s L’enfant prodigue on 5th February 2017 at 3pm

For more information visit: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk

 

REVIEW: The Elixir of Love – The Concert Hall, Motherwell

Scottish Opera’s latest touring production, Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, is a wonderfully witty, beautifully staged and finely sung treasure. An utter joy from start to finish, this is opera for people who think they don’t like opera. Donizetti’s gloriously melodic score is a treat for the ears and Oliver Townsend and Mark Howland’s charming and clever design – re-set from the 19th Century Mediterranean to a country garden in 1920s England, is simply gorgeous.

Humble gardener Nemorino is hopelessly in love with wealthy landowner Adina, but her head (if not her heart) is turned by the flashy Sergeant Belcore. But all is not lost when quack medicine man Dr Dulcamara literally rides into town, selling our hero a powerful love potion that promises to deliver the girl of his dreams into his arms within a day.

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Ellie Laugharne and Elgan Llyr Thomas as Adina and Nemorino in Scottish Opera’s The Elixir of Love Image: Tim Morozzo

This effervescent production bubbles and fizzes throughout, thanks largely to the delightful cast, and as befitting this ‘male Cinderella’ story, it is the boys who dominate. Elgan Llyr Thomas is thoroughly appealing as our love-lorn hero Nemorino and his show-stopping Una furtiva lagrima (one single tear falls silently) is a real crowd-pleaser, but he doesn’t have the limelight solely to himself thanks to scene-stealing turns from Toby Girling as the preposterously pompous Sergeant Belcore and the outstanding James Cleverton as the dodgy Doctor Dulcamara, whose timing, sonorous tones and perfect diction are a masterclass in comic opera acting.

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James Cleverton as Dulcamara Scottish in Opera’s The Elixir of Love Image: Tim Morozzo

Mention must be made of music Derek Clark, who deserves plaudits for trimming Donizetti’s score from 53 instruments to five without losing any of its richness and the brisk baton of conductor Stuart Stratford who drives the score along.

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Ellie Laugharne, Elgan Llyr Thomas and Toby Girling in Scottish Opera’s The Elixir of Love Image: Tim Morozzo

For a work that was written, if not in the two weeks that opera folklore claims, but certainly astonishingly quickly nearly 200 years ago, this sunny, funny, dazzling and delightful work is a five-star, must-see production.

Currently touring Scotland, booking information here: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/our-operas/16-17/the-elixir-of-love