Opera Highlights: Scottish Opera on Tour, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
***** (5 stars)
By Mary Woodward
The splendidly intricate overture To Music by last year’s Scottish Opera Composer in Residence, Samuel Bordoli, which fizzed and zipped through centuries of opera with glancing references that kept me bubbling with laughter [Tannhäuser in ragtime, a Rossini crescendo which instead of closing the piece led into Mozart, more Wagner, and goodness knows what else] opened an evening which did so much more than dish up a number of ‘famous bits from opera’. A brilliantly conceived plot line ran through the evening, to make it so much more than “and now X will sing an except from Y” – a lovelorn young woman, played by Hannah Birkin, searched for music to help her forget her broken heart.
As the applause for the overture died, the lights came up on Hannah sitting alone and miserable at her desk, looking for something to relieve her melancholy: lightbulb moment! – try Spotify to find something different… The suggestion of “Opera” led to the first of the “Google” moments – google: what is opera? Our quartet of singers were wonderfully irritating as Spotify adverts, Google answers, and mobile phone recorded messages as they demonstrated the answers to ‘all the questions you’ve ever wanted to ask about opera’, such as “who wrote opera?”; “is it always in Italian?”; “are there angry operas?” and tried to help Hannah resolve her relationship difficulties .
Soprano Sofia Troncoso, mezzo Sarah Champion, tenor Richard Pinkstone and baritone Dawid Kimberg showed their impressive vocal talents as they presented a wide-ranging programme of operatic solos, duets and ensembles. Much of the music I knew and loved while some was new and a delight to hear for the first time. I particularly enjoyed the tenor Song of the Road from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Hugh the Drover and Tarquinius’s Within this frail crucible of light from Britten’s Rape of Lucretia.
Sophia Troncoso impressed me with her beautiful voice and impeccable technique – I was particularly thrilled with the joy pouring out of her as the young Juliet making her first appearance at the ball. Sarah Champion had enormous fun playing both boys and girls – the enraged Sesto in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, the lovelorn Siebel in Gounod’s Faust and the infatuated Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Richard Pinkstone, in his Scottish Opera début gave a lovely account of Nemorino’s Quanto è bella, quanto è cara from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore and had great fun attempting to seduce the Countess Adele in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, unaware that the page Isolier had got there before him. Company debutant Dawid Kimberg’s Papageno sadly tried to hang himself, only to be saved at the last moment as the lovely Papagena appeared to fulfil his dreams of happiness and a whole family of chicks…
The four voices blended well, and the singers had enormous fun in the closing ensembles from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard, Johan Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus and Emmerich Kálmán’s Gräfin Mariza, relishing their opportunity to strut their Strictly skills in the ensemble choreography which never degenerated into pantomime but fitted the mood and tempo of the music.
One final question: Google – do opera singers ever sing anything other than opera? Yes – and a delightful arrangement of Lennon & McCartney’s Yesterday soothed and beguiled us and sent us out cheerfully into the night, but not until we’d saluted the cast with prolonged and enthusiastic applause for singers, actor and the wonderful accompanist, Jonathon Swinard, who was simply magnificent.
This is exactly what I have come to expect from Scottish Opera on tour: entertaining and inventive, delightful and immensely satisfying – roll on next year!
Opera Highlights: Scottish Opera on Tour, Brunton Theatre, Run Ended