Tag Archives: Ric Furman

REVIEW: Iris – Scottish Opera at The City Halls, Glasgow

Iris, Pietro Mascagni’s little seen third opera, is presented in concert form at the City Halls in Glasgow, by Scottish Opera. Originally intended to be semi-staged, almost universal cast illness means that this is a little more no frills. However, the music is so glorious, nothing more is required.

Set in Japan in the Edo period, innocent Iris (Kiandra Howarth, replacing the indisposed Helena Dix), the daughter of blind Il Cieco (James Creswell) lives a simple life. Her world is turned on its head when young Lord Osaka (Ric Furman) carries Iris off to Kyoto’s (Roland Wood) geisha house and a world so cruel she can barely comprehend.

Mascagni’s work pre-dates Puccini’s Butterfly by six years and is considerably more demanding – this is basically the tale of a young Japanese girl who is sold into sex-trafficking, and it makes no bones about it’s presentation of it, what Puccini glosses over, Mascagni and his librettist Luigi Illica, lay bare. The problematic nature of the story is only made more difficult by the fact that there is no remorse for the unpalatable actions of the men in the story and to add insult to injury, the males are inevitably handed all the best music.

The ominous bass solo with which the work begins, sets the tone for Iris’ fate, but it begins one of the most beautiful openings in opera, as the sun rises over Japan. This glorious opening is a precursor to a work filled with beautiful music, played faultlessly by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and accompanied impeccably by the chorus of Iris. The first rate singers, the icing on the cake.

While the subject matter may not be to many’s taste, Iris, is utterly hypnotic, completely beguiling, and in the intimate setting of the City Halls, with it’s world-class acoustics, a five-star, absolute highlight of the current opera season.

Image: James Glossop

NEWS: OPERA IN CONCERT SERIES CONTINUES WITH SCOTTISH OPERA PREMIERE OF MASCAGNI’S IRIS

The Scottish Opera premiere of Pietro Mascagni’s Iris, a gripping tale of innocence lost, takes place on 1 December at City Halls, Glasgow.

Conducted by Scottish Opera Music Director Stuart Stratford, Roxana Haines (Opera Highlights 2019) directs this semi-staged work, featuring soloists Helena Dix, Ric Furman (Kátya Kabanová 2019) and Roland Wood (Pelléas and Mélisande 2017). They are joined by The Orchestra of Scottish Opera and a 40-strong chorus.

Set in Japan, Iris tells the story of a naïve young girl who is blissfully unaware of life’s darker side. When she is tempted from her home, she suffers a brutal crash course on how cruel the world can be. An opera full of colour and vibrancy it features ‘Hymn to the Sun’, which is often hailed as Mascagni’s finest work.

Scottish Opera Music Director Stuart Stratford said: ‘Iris is, in many ways, Mascagni’s greatest opera. Composed six years before Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, it too looks to Japan for inspiration. The opening ‘Hymn to the Sun’ is one of the most spectacular depictions of a sunrise in music, starting from the murky depths of a solo double bass playing a quasi tone-row, later swelled by the rest of the strings, glittering horn calls and just when you think it can’t get any louder the full chorus join in to reach a tremendous climax. The drama is brutal and uncompromising, with some of the most alluring music given to the most desperate and appalling situations which creates a huge sense of unease in the listener.’

The Opera in Concert series continues in May 2020 with the passionate and lyrical Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni. Performed at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, it tells the tale of a young Sicilian villager who returns from war to find his fiancée has married someone else. Conductor Stuart Stratford has chosen to pair it with Leoncavallo’s lesser-known work Zingari, another Scottish Opera premiere. With a parallel narrative that sees another love triangle go disastrously wrong, Zingari is based on Pushkin’s The Gypsies. Orpha Phelan directs soloists including Evez Abdulla, Justina Gringyte and Julia Sporsén.

The Opera in Concert series concludes with a semi-staged performance of Utopia, Limited. A new co-production with D’Oyly Carte Opera and State Opera South Australia, this Scottish Opera premiere will be performed with an updated libretto by director Stuart Maunder, and a revised musical version by Scottish Opera’s Head of Music, Derek Clark, who also conducts. Wittily satirising the British Empire’s politics, monarchy and press, Gilbert & Sullivan’s penultimate opera is performed by the cast of The Gondoliers, and designed by Dick Bird. Utopia, Limited tours to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Hackney Empire in London.

Mascagni’s Iris

1 December 2019, 3pm

City Halls, Glasgow

www.scottishopera.org.uk

REVIEW: Scottish Opera Kátya Kabanová – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

The shining star of Scottish Opera’s current season is undoubtedly Stephen Lawless’ gorgeous looking and sounding version of Leoš Janáček’s Kátya Kabanová. One of the four late operas by the composer that are universally acknowledged as his greatest works, it has been given something of a Scandi-noir look by designer Leslie Travers and lighting designer Christopher Akerlind, for this co-production with Theater Magdeburg. Based on Alexander Ostrovsky’s play The Storm, and originally set in the 1860s in the small industrial town of Kalinov on the banks of the Volga river, the action has been advanced over a hundred years to the dark days of the Soviet era. 

Sweet and loyal Kátya is seemingly happily married to Tikhon but unrelentingly bullied by his over-possessive, domineering mother Kabanicha. When Tikhon is ordered away on business by his mother, the oppressed and isolated Kátya is tempted into the arms of another. Inherently loyal and utterly remorseful of her actions, she cannot come to terms with what she has done. In the closed-minded town she is subjected not only the whispers of the townsfolk, but the whispers in her own head. Kátya decisively takes action to calm the storm inside.

The orchestra of Scottish Opera are on lively form, at times so lively that it takes a strong singer to stand up to their vigour: some are more successful than others. Laura Wilde is a soft and timid Kátya with a crystal clear soprano, however, there are points where she, like others is overwhelmed by the pit. American tenor Ric Furman as her insipid lover Boris, is almost inaudible for much of the production, and as her Mrs. Danvers-like mother-in-law-from-hell, Patricia Bardon is in fine voice, but strays into pantomime territory as the arch villain. Much more successful are lovers Varvara (Hanna Hipp) and Vanya (Trystan Llŷr Griffiths) who provide a lively foil to the darker goings on.

This is a production that transcends its faults, darkly atmospheric, beautifully designed and with a lyrical yet highly dramatic score that is an absolute treat for the ears, it is a shining jewel in Scottish Opera’s current season.

Touring to Edinburgh 21 and 23 March 2019

Image: James Glossop