Tag Archives: Opera

NEWS: SCOTTISH OPERA PRESENTS WORLD PREMIERE OF ANTHROPOCENE BY STUART MACRAE AND LOUISE WELSH

The world premiere of Anthropocene, a gripping new work commissioned by Scottish Opera from composer Stuart MacRae and librettist Louise Welsh, takes place on January 24 at Theatre Royal Glasgow. It then tours to King’s Theatre, Edinburgh and London’s Hackney Empire.

Telling the story of an expeditionary team of scientists who become trapped in the frozen Arctic wastelands, Anthropocene is directed by Matthew Richardson (Rigoletto 2018) and designed by Samal Blak, the award-winning team behind MacRae and Welsh’s five-star opera The Devil Inside (2016).

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

Conducted by Scottish Opera Music Director Stuart Stratford, the superb ensemble cast includes former Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Jennifer France (Ariadne auf Naxos 2018), Scottish soprano Jeni Bern and Stephen Gadd (Rigoletto 2018.) They are joined by Benedict Nelson (The Burning Fiery Furnace 2018), Mark Le Brocq, Paul Whelan, Anthony Gregory and Laura Zigmantaite (Ariadne auf Naxos 2018), a former Scottish Opera Emerging Artist.

Anthropocene is the fourth collaboration between MacRae and Welsh, a fruitful partnership initially born of the 15-minute opera Remembrance Day in 2009. The composer-librettist team went on to create Ghost Patrol in 2012, which won a South Bank Sky Arts Award and was nominated for an Olivier Award, and 2016’s The Devil Inside, based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Inverness-born MacRae’s work has been performed at the Royal Opera House and Edinburgh International Festival, and by ensembles including Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Hebrides Ensemble. He is currently Composer in Association at Lammermuir Festival.

A Professor of Creative Writing at University of Glasgow, Welsh is the author of a number of popular novels including award-winning The Cutting Room and Plague Times Trilogy.

Composer Stuart MacRae said: ‘The triumph of human self-interest over nature and over other humans: this is the essence of the Anthropocene age. It is also the cause of man-made climate change, countless environmental catastrophes and the exploitation of marginalised peoples by wealthy nations and individuals. When faced with extreme isolation, a loss of control over their destiny, and personal catastrophe, the appearance of a mysterious outsider poses an impossible dilemma for the crew of the Anthropocene, and becomes the focus of temptation, sympathy, ambition, empathy and fascination.

‘It’s been a joy to work on Anthropocene with librettist Louise Welsh, who brings such depth, colour and variety to this original story, and I’m delighted that it will be brought to the stage by our hugely imaginative long-term collaborators, Matthew Richardson and Samal Blak, and conducted by Stuart Stratford.’

Librettist Louise Welsh said: ‘Anthropocene is one of the most exciting projects I have been involved with. This is my fourth opera with Stuart MacRae for Scottish Opera and it is an honour to write words which I know he will set to a unique palette of music.

‘The themes of Anthropocene are both perennial and up-to-the-minute. Human beings have always striven to conquer distant and hostile territories. The twenty-first century has opened the field to rich amateurs who might previously have stayed at home and charted on maps the progress of expeditions they had funded. Anthropocene is a story of over-wielding ambition, murder, human sacrifice and thwarted love. It is also an exploration of the tensions between magic and science.’

Stuart Stratford, Scottish Opera Music Director said: ‘Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh have yet again delivered an amazing piece of music theatre for Scottish Opera. An incredibly imaginative story of discovery, betrayal and violent sacrifice with daring and dazzling virtuoso orchestral textures, Anthropocene will keep the audience gripped throughout.’

Those who wish to discover more about how the production was created can attend Pre-show Talks, and audience members with a visual impairment can enjoy the full opera experience at audio-described performances, which have a live commentary describing the action on stage without compromising the music.

Anthropocene is supported by John S. Cohen Foundation, RVW Trust and Scottish Opera’s New Commissions Circle.

 

Cast List

Ice                                                                             Jennifer France

Professor Prentice                                              Jeni Bern 

Charles                                                                    Stephen Gadd

Miles                                                                        Benedict Nelson

Harry King                                                               Mark Le Brocq

Captain Ross                                                          Paul Whelan

Vasco                                                                         Anthony Gregory

Daisy                                                                          Laura Zigmantaite

 

Creative Team

 

Conductor                                                              Stuart Stratford

Director                                                                   Matthew Richardson

Set and Costume Designer                              Samal Blak 

Lighting Designer                                                 Matthew Richardson 

Movement Director                                             Kally Lloyd-Jones

Associate Lighting Director                                Zoe Spurr

 

Performance Diary

 

Theatre Royal Glasgow, 282 Hope Street, Glasgow G2 3QA

Thu 24 Jan, 7.15pm

Sat 26 Jan, 7.15pm

 

Pre-show Talk                                             Sat 26 Jan, 6pm

Touch Tour                                                    Sat 26 Jan, 6pm

Audio-described performance            Sat 26 Jan, 7.15pm

 

King’s Theatre Edinburgh, 2 Leven Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9LQ

Thu 31 Jan, 7.15pm

Sat 2 Feb, 7.15pm

 

Pre-show Talk                                             Sat 2 Feb, 6pm

Touch Tour                                                    Sat 2 Feb, 6pm

Audio-described performance            Sat 2 Feb, 7.15pm

 

Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, London, E81 1EJ

Thu 7 Feb, 7.30pm

Sat 9 Feb, 7.30pm

London performances are presented in association with The Royal Opera

IMAGE: Julie Broadfoot

REVIEW: Opera Highlights (Scottish Opera) – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Four singers, one piano, seventeen venues, Scottish Opera’s much-anticipated Opera Highlights returns (yippee!) and as always, it never fails to delight.

Director Daisy Evans has framed this year’s production as an electronically created playlist of opera gems. An “on-stage opera newbie” goes on an “emotional musical voyage” discovering, via Spotify and Google via Alexa, just how music has the power to move. Evans is a director to watch, and her staging undoubtedly adds greatly to the enjoyment of the evening. It’s funny, clever, accessible, inclusive, all the things that good theatre of any genre should be. It also looks great. A neon door and window and a few wooden crates serve as the only stage dressing, but coupled with the brightly coloured suited, booted and co-ordinating nail-varnished cast, it works brilliantly.

Freed from the constraints of remaining in a single character, the singers’ personalities are given the chance to shine in a variety of roles, and the warmth just radiates from the quartet. The acoustics in this small auditorium are as close to ideal as it is possible to get in a theatre and the voices give goose bumps. Soprano Sofia Troncoso, Mezzo Sarah Champion, Tenor Richard Pinkstone, Baritone Dawid Kimberg are exceptional as is pianist Jonathon Swinard.

The programme, designed by Scottish Opera’s Head of Music Derek Clark, delivers something for everyone. The range of composers, styles and moods, genuinely runs the gamut of human emotion.

Scottish Opera’s annual ‘Highlights’ tour, and indeed the whole of the company’s programming, is a model for how a national company should operate. A hands-down, five star, exemplary evening of entertainment.

Currently on tour to: Ayr, Drumnadrochit, Wick, Forres, Ullapool, Stornoway, Portree, Lanark, Helensburgh, Dundee, Inverurie, Laurencekirk, Perth, Dumfries, Musselburgh and St. Andrews.

More information at Scottish Opera

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Greek – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Based on Steven Berkoff’s riff on Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Greek has fast forwarded the story from Thebes, 429 BC to the Tufnell Park in the 1980s.

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s work, while labelled as modern opera is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and while the shock of the new may have worn off in the intervening years, it still packs a hugely entertaining punch visually and aurally. Though, those with a delicate stomach might want to give it a wide berth thanks to Dick Straker’s live video projections which include a stomach-turning greasy spoon breakfast complete with live maggots and those offended by fowl language be warned there’s plenty of effing and blinding.

While cleverly adapted to suit modern sensibilities, the fundamentals remain the same: our hero Eddy, clad in a tomato red Adidas 3-stripe tracksuit leaves behind the ‘cess pit’ of the East End to avoid fulfilling the prophecy of a fortune teller who predicts his father will die a violent death and he’ll ‘bunk up with his mum’.

Johannes Schutz’s set design comprising an enormous, white rectangular revolve with two door openings, focusses all the attention firmly up front and centre stage. Alex Lowde’s comical costume designs add to the almost vaudevillian feeling of the piece.

The cast of four (three of whom, Allison Cook, Susan Bullock and Henry Waddington, double, triple and quadruple up on roles) keep the interest and entertainment up throughout. There are however a few issues with projection, even from just a few rows back it sounds underpowered. That said, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this it remains hugely entertaining throughout.

Young conductor Finnegan Downie Dear, keeps the orchestra on point and sustains the creeping menace in the music for the duration.

Subtle it isn’t, but it is a thoroughly engaging, bawdy and bold, small but perfectly formed 80 minute breath of fresh air on the opera landscape.

Images: Jane Hobson

 

REVIEW: The Fiery Angel (Scottish Opera Sunday Series) – City Halls, Glasgow

Masochistic obsession, black magic, demons, mass possession, exorcism, skeletons, nuns, appearances from Faust and Mephistopheles, it’s no wonder Sergei Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel, often called lurid and sensationalist, is seldom staged. This latest production in The Sunday Series from Scottish Opera sees the work given a stripped back concert style treatment and it’s all the better for it.

Rehearsal for The Fiery Angel
Photos by Julie Howden

While lacking a set, it lacks for nothing else. The principal cast is largely made up of native Russian speakers and some fellow Eastern Europeans and is supplemented by current students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland opera school. The expertise with the language is partly the reason for the quality of this production, that and the considerable singing and acting skills of its principal players. Russian soprano Svetlana Sozdateleva is fine-voiced and gives a convincing, emotive performance throughout as the mentally unsound Renata, as is Azerbaijani baritone Evez Abdulla as Ruprecht and Russian tenor Dmitry Golovnin as Agrippa von Nettesheim, though it must be said that at times they, and their fellow singers find it hard to be heard over the outstanding orchestra (itself swelled in number by students from the Conservatoire), who, under the commanding baton of Mikhail Agrest, have rarely sounded more powerful.

Rehearsal for The Fiery Angel
Photos by Julie Howden

For all its, quite frankly insane subject matter, the score is an absolute winner: powerful, hypnotic, dissonant, majestic, bold and gripping.

Every aspect of this largely concert hall venue is utilised well: singers enter through the auditorium, sing from the balconies, orchestra stalls and act out the considerable drama in an arrangement of simply staged, but hugely effective scenes.

An absolute triumph for both Scottish Opera and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a fantastic opportunity to hear Prokofiev’s masterpiece sounding at its best.

 

 

REVIEW: The 8th Door / Bluebeard’s Castle – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Karen Cargill David Hayward Bluebeard's castle theatre Royal Scottish opera glasgow

You must admire the bold, brave, artistic choices that have characterised Scottish Opera’s current season. However, whether these choices resonate with its current, loyal audience remains to be seen.

Lliam Paterson and Vanishing Point’s Matthew Lenton’s new commission The 8th Door has been devised as a companion piece to Béla Bartók’s sublime Bluebeard’s Castle, the intention being that they, (according to the programme notes) “complement each other’s artistic ambition and vision, through a provocative evening”. This world-premiere work provides plenty food for thought.

A relationship plays out before us from its inception to its demise, two actors, facing video cameras, their backs to the audience, their emotions projected onto screens. From the pit, six voices, accompanied by a stunningly good orchestra, sing a text based on the works of Bartók’s artistic contemporaries: Endre Ady, Judit Frigyesi, Sándor Weöres and Attila József, as well as Edwin Morgan.

While Paterson’s score is innovative in its approach and delivery, it wears the influence of Bartók’s work on its sleeve. However, it suffers in comparison. While Bluebeard’s Castle is a masterpiece, a shimmering, intensely unsettling, but beautifully scored existential tragedy, The 8th Door feels unremittingly dull and repetitive. This coupled with Matthew Lenton’s direction and Kai Fischer’s design, which instead of bringing freshness and modernity, is oddly outdated. Locked in their own vision of ‘modernity’ they seem to have failed to notice the real innovations in staging that are currently happening in theatre. (On a side note, among the clock-watching and harrumphing, there were two different walk-outs at around the 10-15 minute mark in my corner of the auditorium, both only returning to hear Bartók’s piece).

While Paterson’s brand spanking new work seems long at 40 minutes, Bluebeard’s Castle whips along at a cracking pace. Bartók’s 1918 modernist horror work feeling more innovative, more compelling and more resonant. As Bluebeard and Judith, Robert Hayward and Karen Cargill are in stunning vocal form and the orchestra of Scottish Opera, in particular its brass section, have rarely sounded finer.

While a journey into darkness and an unremitting blackness unite the two works, it’s the near 100 year-old piece that really resonates.

Runs on selected dates until 1 April then touring to Edinburgh Festival Theatre on 5 and 8 April 2017

For more information visit http://www.scottishopera.org.com

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.

the-trial-4

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.

the-trial-3

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.

the-trial-2

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.

ellie-laugharne-as-adina-elgan-llyr-thomas-as-nemorino-and-toby-girling-as-belcore-in-the-elixir-of-love-scottish-opera-2016-credit-tim-morozzo

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

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