Tag Archives: Opera

NEWS: SCOTTISH OPERA PRESENTS A FILMED PERFORMANCE OF HUMPERDINCK’S HANSEL AND GRETEL

Scottish Opera premieres Humperdinck’s enchanting Hansel and Gretel in the latest Scottish Opera: On Screen, filmed at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal on 19 December. The whole family can immerse themselves in this modern adaptation of the classic fairy tale from Wednesday 10 February at 6pm, via the Scottish Opera website. Before then, BBC Radio Scotland will feature audio excerpts from the performance as part of Classics Unwrapped, presented by Jamie MacDougall, on 7 February.

Sung in English, with staging by Daisy Evans, this vivid and joyful reimagining of Humperdinck’s opera tells the heart-warming story of two children and their journey from an impoverished home, into the mystery and danger of the woods. Brought to life by Daisy’s unique staging, with a Christmas-crazed witch and a shopping trolley full of sugary sweets and garish goodies, Hansel and Gretel seem a long way from their simple family life. Packed full of charm and sparkle this production is an ideal anytime treat for children and adults alike, sure to lift spirits and transport audiences from behind the screen to a world of hope and wonder. Although Hansel and Gretel is an opera traditionally associated with Christmas, Daisy’s new production celebrates the opera’s joy and hope that are just as powerful and relevant whatever the season.

David Parry conducts a cast including Kathleen Ferrier Award-winner Kitty Whately as Hansel, Rhian Lois (La bohème 2020) as Gretel, ENO Harewood Artist Nadine Benjamin as Mother and The Witch, Phillip Rhodes as Father and former Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Charlie Drummond (Così fan tutte, 2020) as The Sandman and The Dew Fairy, in a translation by David Pountney and with a reduced orchestration by Derek Clark. Humperdinck’s chorus of gingerbread children is performed by a chorus of four adults.

Daisy Evans said: ‘This show is fun for all the family, bright colours, big energy and plenty of glitter! With the current pandemic, everybody has had a difficult Christmas, so I wanted it to be about finding joy where we can, and about families celebrating together. And I also want it to encourage people to come back to the theatre, and to bring their children with them – to make them want to be part of this experience, and to invest in it as part of our culture.’

Scottish Opera’s Head of Music, Derek Clark said: ‘Despite a prolific composing career, Humperdinck’s reputation rests solely on this one opera. The combination of a straightforward fairy tale with a musical language which owes a heavy debt to Wagner may seem an unlikely one, but in Hansel and Gretel, the mixture of simple tunes, like the famous Dance duet, thrilling orchestral passages such as the Witch’s Ride and the Dream pantomime, and the tender emotion of the children’s Evening Prayer produces a masterpiece which has kept its popularity for well over a century.’

Available to watch via Scottish Opera’s website www.scottishopera.org.uk. Scottish Opera has also produced an Audio Described version of the film, also available to watch via the Company’s website. This is the latest in Scottish Opera’s Audio Described opera films, all of which have proved extremely popular with viewers.

Find out more about Daisy Evans staging of Humperdinck’s fairy tale opera in an exclusive interview: www.scottishopera.org.uk/news/an-exclusive-interview-with-daisy-evans-staging-hansel-gretel/

IMAGE: James Glossop

REVIEW: Amadeus and the Bard – Scottish Opera Production Studios, Glasgow

We’re invited to a night out at Poosie Nansie’s Inn, on of Robert Burns’ favourite hostelries, in Mary McCluskey’s Amadeus and the Bard.

Subtitled 18th Century Cosmic Brothers, this mixture of story and song, explores the lives of Scotland’s best-loved poet and Austria (and the World’s) most revered composer, Mozart and sheds light on the often startling similarities between them. Burns’ traditional Scottish folk tunes are blended with some of Mozart’s most popular arias. Tam O’ Shanter sits alongside The Magic Flute, A Red, Red Rose alongside The Marriage of Figaro.

McCluskey’s production is like a great, big all encompassing hug. From the moment the audience enters greeted by the cast, clad in their authentic looking, late 18th Century garb, to the last notes ringing out, the audience feel more like participants than on-lookers. The engaging performers, the songs, poems and script are delivered so warmly and invitingly that you can’t help be captivated.

The parallels between these two seemingly disparate men are cleverly woven together and delivered inventively. The mixture of professional performers both singers and an actor, and members of Scottish Opera Young Company, blend seamlessly to create an enchanting evening’s entertainment. Particularly of note are baritone Ross Fettes, a current student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a gifted young singer with a bright future ahead of him, and fellow RCS student, soprano Erin Spence, whose voice and artistry leave a lasting impression, Miss Spence has a rare talent of being able to act convincingly as well as deliver the songs with conviction. Tenor James McIntyre too throws himself fully into his multiple roles. It would be churlish though, not to acknowledge the quality of the entire cast, who are excellent.

That a national company is producing smaller-scale but highly engaging, original and appealing productions is to be lauded – more of this please.

Images: Sally Jubb

REVIEW: Scottish Opera Orfeo & Euridice – Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock

Gluck’s innovative, influential and hugely popular Orfeo & Euridice is the latest production from Scottish Opera’s Young Company.

Scottish Opera – Orfeo & Euridice © Julie Broadfoot

Following Gluck’s own lead, (he produced three versions of this work to suit the differing tastes of the audiences it was presented to and the voices singing it: Vienna 1762, Parma 1769 and Paris 1774) the company presents its own English language version for its young cast. Starting with the original Viennese version, it splits the role of Amore into three mischievous Cupids and Amore’s Act 1 aria is re-arranged for trio and chorus. It utilises Euridice’s Act 2 aria from the Paris version but with chorus and Gluck’s famous ballet music features the entire company.

Scottish Opera – Orfeo & Euridice © Julie Broadfoot

This whole production is a treat for both the eyes and the ears. It takes the best of the three versions to present a ‘greatest hits’, audience-pleasing edition. Musically it is simply beautiful and the young singers lead by professionals Daniel Keating-Roberts (Orfeo) and Jessica Leary (Euridice) display immense talent and promise for the future. Keating-Roberts counter-tenor can be an acquired taste, but entirely fitting for the role. Leary is glorious sounding as Euridice.

Scottish Opera – Orfeo & Euridice © Julie Broadfoot

Visually, Finlay McLay’s design, though minimalistic, packs a punch and Roy Herd’s lighting design is simply gorgeous – atmospheric and evocative.

Scottish Opera – Orfeo & Euridice © Julie Broadfoot

At 75 minutes running time, with a familiar subject matter (the myth of Orpheus), beautiful and undemanding music, inventive design and execution, this is an ideal introduction to opera. Not only is it an impeccably staged and delivered production, the Young Company shows hope for the future of opera in Scotland.

REVIEW: Anthropocene – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh’s fourth work for Scottish Opera (and their first full-length opera) received its world premiere in Glasgow last night. While Anthropocene delivers on many levels, it isn’t quite the perfect package…yet. There’s fantastic potential for thrills and chills both dramatically and musically, but there’s an overriding feeling that the narrative and expected tension of the subject matter has been sacrificed due to uneven pacing.

Entrepreneur Harry King has financed a polar expedition on his state of the art vessel, King’s Anthropocene, an expedition to explore the origins of life on earth. As the ice encroaches, the team become trapped, tensions rise among the small crew and an eerie discovery emerges from the frozen depths.

While Act One firmly establishes each character, it outstays its welcome by a good twenty minutes: there’s unnecessary repetitive padding of the libretto and a uniform musical tone that fails to grip. On the reverse side, its final act comes to its denouement at a break-neck speed. That said there are some hauntingly beautiful musical moments, most particularly at the hands of Jennifer France as the being from the ice. Her gorgeous, ethereal soprano sends shivers down the spine. Less successful both dramatically and vocally are Mark Le Brocq’s Harry King and Sarah Champion as King’s daughter Daisy – each is underpowered vocally and over-acting dramatically.

Samal Blak’s set and costume design, while functional, lacks the necessary detail that keeps the attention for the duration of a full-length work. Matthew Richardson’s direction is functional rather than original or thrilling.

The explorational of our Anthropocene age, science and technology interwoven with ancient beliefs and a touch of Frankenstein, all seem thrilling on paper, and it would have been a stunner had the dramatic potential been fully exploited. It feels like a case of what might have been.

Runs until 26 January at The Theatre Royal, Glasgow, then tours to The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh and the Hackney Empire, London.

IMAGES: James Glossop

 

 

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.

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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

 

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