Opera Highlights: Scottish Opera on Tour
**** (4 stars)
Yet again Derek Clark, Head of Music at Scottish Opera, has done asuperb job of weaving together a kaleidoscopic array of arias, duets and ensembles from an eclectic mix of opera and operetta to produce an evening which, on the last night of an extended tour, kept the audience in the Brunton well-entertained and was deservedly greeted with loud applause. It was good to see the four singers waiting for us as we left the theatre, so we could express in person our thanks and appreciation of their hard work.
Rather than simply present a randomly assorted mixed bag of music, the company has done an excellent job in constructing a story line that gave significance and context to each piece. Four young people, each wielding a mobile phone and frustrated at the lack of mobile service, arrived for a party somewhere in the country: but where was their host, and why wasn’t everything ready? Deciding that they would follow the list of instructions on a handily-placed clipboard, they set about getting things done, singing as they went.
They opened with a joyful quartet – but it soon became apparent that all was not well: the soprano had something she needed to tell the tenor and the mezzo was desperate to attract the notice of the [oblivious] baritone with whom she’d been in love since she was a child. Misunderstandings, betrayals, heartbreak, disguise and all the usual operatic confusion wound through the first half of the show – but it was mostly all sorted out by the interval. The plot was a little looser in the second half, but there were no desperate upsets, a lot of jollity, and a very happy ending…
There weren’t many ‘famous bits’, which I found okay but which rather confused my companion who was having her first taste of opera: she only recognised one piece in the whole evening, and the lack of light in the auditorium meant she couldn’t glean any enlightenment from the [excellent] programme. I assured her afterwards that a ‘proper’ opera would be more coherent, and urged her to give it a try…
What we were united on was appreciation of mezzo Martha Jones who was outstanding: face, voice, and body language even when not singing, were all exceptionally expressive and she seemed equally at home in tragedy and comedy. Her voice sounded superb in French [Connais-tu le pays? from Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon] but she was equally at home in Italian and English, and even managed to keep me gripped in Lucretia’s Give him this orchid from Britten’s Rape of Lucretia – not my favourite composer…
Soprano Charlie Drummond and baritone Mark Nathan showed clearly why they are two of Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists this year. Both shone in their duets – the Count and Susanna’s assignation-making meeting and Papageno’s joyful reunion with Papagena: I greatly enjoyed the added complication that in both Charlie was singing on behalf of Martha, who wanted to be the one Mark was making love to. I was less happy with Alex Bevan’s tortured account of Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin, where I felt his agonised facial contortions disturbed the lyrical outpourings of a poet who remains an incurable romantic even in the face of death: I really appreciated his acting and comic timing, and his contributions to the second half of the programme, especially Dan Cupid hath a garden from Edward German’s Merrie England.
The second half of the programme began with a piece by this year’s Composer in Residence with Scottish Opera – O let the earth devour me quicke, which describes Daphne’s transformation into a laurel tree to escape Phoebus Apollo. The music was fascinating, but I was less convinced by the stylised gestures which accompanied it. Charlie Drummond’s delightful rendition of the Vilja-song from Lehár’s The Merry Widow was supported by two singers and a horse [!], while Martha Jones’s performance of Dame Hannah’s there grew a little flower from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore contained all the heartbreak and hope of past unrequited love hoping finally to find a happy ending. Alex Bevan and Mark Nathan gave a dashing performance as the two heroes from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers [which I’m delighted to see is one of Scottish Opera’s offerings later this season!] and there was much more to enjoy as well.
The evening was a delightfully entertaining mix of drama, tragedy, pathos and comedy which all four singers engaged in with great energy and enthusiasm. Yet again Scottish Opera have showcased the best in young talent: I look forward to seeing all four singers again very soon.
Opera Highlights: Scottish Opera on Tour, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Run Ended