Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland
**** (4 stars)
The last time I was ‘after hours’ in the National Museum, I was enjoying an evening mashup of an exhibition of Scottish pop culture with an eclectic mix of shows on offer at the Fringe – acrobats, circus performers, drag artistes and more – all received enthusiastically by a largely young and energetic audience.
Tonight the Museum’s audience was somewhat more subdued, but no less enthusiastic about an evening arranged by Scottish Opera in partnership with National Museums Scotland linking in with the current exhibition Wild and Majestic, which explores the way Scotland was seen as the epitome of nineteenth century Romanticism..
Visions of wild and rugged landscapes through which strode heroic figures wrapped in tartan accompanied by skirling bagpipes caught the imagination of artists and composers around the world. Tonight’s performance by three of Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists presented major and lesser-known composers’ responses to this vision. With Scottish Opera’s Head of Music, Derek Clark at the piano, Charlie Drummond, Arthur Bruce and Mark Nathan gave us an entertaining mix of famous and less well-kent pieces.
Robert Burns’ poems and Sir Walter Scott’s novels spoke to many composers. We heard Schumann’s setting of three very famous Burns poems and Beethoven’s setting of Highland Harry – the manuscript score of the latter’s setting of is a prominent feature of the exhibition. Walter Scott’s novels inspired Bizet [The Fair Maid of Perth], Scotland’s Hamish MacCunn and Italy’s Federico Ricci [The Heart of Midlothian], and Donizetti [The Bride of Lammermoor]. The Bizet duet and the two subsequent solos were new to me: the Lucia duet is very familiar. To complete the programme we had Schubert’s three settings of Ossian poems, Verdi’s Macbeth’s final aria, and a piano solo – Brahms’ Ballade in D minor Op 10 no 1, inspired by an old Scottish ballad, Edward.
I’ve had the good fortune to see these three Emerging Artists several times recently, and each time I’m impressed by their talents – easy to see why Scottish Opera is supporting them, and fascinating to watch their future progress. This evening’s programme was full of lamenting, with fewer light-hearted moments. Charlie Drummond sang superbly: she portrays heartbroken misery and plaintive nostalgia superbly, but I’m really glad I’ve also seen her fun side in the recent touring ‘opera highlights’ production. Arthur Bruce had more opportunity to be a hopeful, ardent lover and also to smile, especially in the Federico Ricci piece, in which a smuggler gleefully celebrates his drinking habits: though he’s spent a life on the water, he’s never touched a drop of it! Mark Nathan’s singing without a copy meant that he could engage smilingly with his audience as he sang Burns’ Niemand /Naebody. Being a tall fellow with a commanding voice, he must often get cast as the baddie – here he hurled defiance in Macbeth’s final aria, and then put pressure on his sister Lucia to marry for his own political advantage, having led her to believe that her true love is false to her. The voice is splendid and I hope that the maturity fully to engage with and express these weightier emotions will come with time.
The audience didn’t need the stimulus of some excellent wine to rouse them to applause: each item was greeted with warm applause, and the final stirring duet from Lucia was a fitting climax to what one must hope is only the first of many stimulating collaborations between Scottish Opera and the National Museums of Scotland.
Scottish Opera in collaboration with National Museums Scotland presents Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Run Ended