Amadeus and the Bard
***** (5 stars)
At first sight, what’s the connection between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Robert Burns? Well… Both born on January 25th, three years apart [Mozart 1756, Burns 1759]; both died young and poor, from neglected illnesses; both appreciated women; both were Masons; both were geniuses whose output of words and music was enormous, and both were infinitely more highly-regarded and better-known after their deaths: need I go on?
As we entered, a fiddler and accordion player serenaded us: they were joined by George, the owner of the Mauchline pub known as Poosie Nansie’s, Burns’ local, well-kennt to us from his The Jolly Beggars and Tam O’Shanter. George and his wife Nansie welcomed and introduced their customers and we were encouraged to join in their lively rendition of Green Grow the Rashes, Oh! which got us singing, clapping and stamping and entering into the spirit of the convivial evening celebrating the lives of their local lad, Rabbie, and that other contemporary genius, Wolfie.
If you didn’t know much about either of these men before the show began, you would certainly have a good idea of their lives, loves, and work by the time it ended. If you already knew them, you would enjoy this celebration and the brilliant way their works complemented and overlapped each other – and even, to my enormous delight, were put together in an incredible mash-up of the two men’s creations which had me smiling in sheer delight at the amazingly apposite juxtaposition of some of them.
The cast’s energy and enthusiasm were infectious, and their talent staggering. I first came across narrator Andy Gray in The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Harte, with which I fell in love nearly a decade ago: he was just as talented and versatile here, singing, playing guitar and chilling us with superbly sanctimonious rendition of Holy Willie’s Prayer.
Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artist Arthur Bruce was joined by soprano Stephanie Stanway and a quartet of singers from Scottish Opera’s Young Company, Cara Blaikie, Ross Fettes, James McIntyre and Erin Spence, all of whom switched genres effortlessly, displaying their superb vocal technique in a variety of solos, duets and ensembles from Mozart’s operas and not overdoing it in the Burns songs, where their enthusiasm encouraged us all to join in. The ensemble was completed by fiddler Shannon Stevenson and music director Karen McIver on piano and piano accordion, with members of the cast also displaying their instrumental skills.
The staging was simple, and the effects ingenious. The cast morphed into Rabbie, Wolfie, and their wives simply by putting on a coat [blue for Burns, green for Mozart] or a shawl: each of the singers got a chance to shine, and shine they did! Highlights for me? The delightful array of glove puppet birds that accompanied Papageno and Papagena’s delight in finally being united; the glorious My love is like a red, red rose and the heartfelt For the Sake O’ Somebody.
The crowning gloreis of the afternoon were Andy Gray’s performance of the witches’ Sabbath from Tam O’Shanter, underpinned by the scariest bits from Mozart’s Requiem depicting the terrors of Judgement Day, and the final scene from Don Giovanni when the statue of the murdered Commendatore comes to dine with the Don and invite him to dine with him in hell. The Commendatore’s height and magnificent voice made him infinitely terrifying and the spine-tingling moment when screaming furies came to drag the Don into the raging fire was an inspired piece of theatre.
The show ended with another wonderful mashup: A man’s a man for a’ that [which always brings a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat] overlaid an inspired medley of Mozart melodies – I heard snatches of his Rondo alla Turca, the Queen of the Night’s stratospheric stabbing notes, and I’m sure there was much, much more.
Music Director Karen McIver and creator/ director Mary McCluskey must have had a ball putting this show together. It was packed out – the penultimate performance of what must have been a very successful tour: if the show returns, don’t miss it!
Amadeus and the Bard, Scottish Opera, Scottish Opera Production Studios, Glasgow, Run Ended