Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Ballet Spring! Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Scottish Ballet   Spring!

***** (5 stars)

A delicious double-bill of witty, inventive and delightful dance: a fitting beginning to the celebrations for Scottish Ballet’s 50th year.  As current artistic director and CEO, Christopher Hampson, reminded us, Scottish Ballet was founded to perform new works alongside classics, and tonight’s programme was a perfect example of this – Sophie Laplane’s new work Dextera was coupled with a ballet composed in 1974 which rapidly became a classic – Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations which used the then in-vogue music of Scott Joplin, which many of you will remember was used for the soundtrack of The Sting, the classic movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Dextera used music by Mozart – in itself a delight, played in the pit by the wonderful Scottish Opera orchestra.  Movements from his vibrant, tense 25th symphony [remember Amadeus?] and his final violin concerto, the Queen of the Night’s spine-chilling vengeance aria from Magic Flute and Cherubino’s moving plea voi, che sapete from The Marriage of Figaro providing a wide-ranging emotional spectrum for the dancers interpret against a fascinating mixture of timbres, textures, and orchestral colour.

The music began: the tabs went up on a dark, empty stage.  A single spotlight made a circle of light into which a blood-red glove fluttered down… a young man moved into the circle of light, picked up the glove – and this shockingly scarlet hand seemed to have a life of its own, moving and pulling him in every conceivable direction… More people, more gloves… Hands waving, gesturing, threatening, cajoling: gloves being stolen, sought, discarded, treasured… Cream-clad mannequins manipulated by red-gloved puppeteers; extraordinary lifts and portages using handles attached to costumes, allowing the ‘puppet-master’ to move his [or her!] ‘doll’ through an indescribably complex set of manoeuvres… Traditional partnering roles were reversed or completely ignored: four men surrounded and manipulated one woman; girls turned the tables on their manipulators…

Dextera is a fascinating, ever-changing visual kaleidoscope through which to investigate gender roles, power and powerlessness, and the processes of artistic creation.  Subtle lighting and simple muted mostly monochrome costumes made the blood-red gloves even more startling and symbolic.  The movements were sinuous, angular, extraordinarily complex and jaw-droppingly clever – Sophie Laplane is a name to look out for.  The audience erupted into a storm of cheers and applause – this is a ballet to seek out and watch again and again.

As if that weren’t enough joy for one evening, we were then treated to the joyful celebration of dance and the human body that is Elite Syncopations with its feel of 1920s dance halls and competitions.  The band came up to join the dancers, who stayed on stage the whole time, watching each other and indulging in all sorts of byplay.  All the musicians were superb, but Brian Prentice deserves special mention for his magnificent, magnetic, stylistically authentic piano-playing.

Boys showed off, girls flirted: a hapless wee bespectacled man [a brilliant Andrew Peasgood] was hilariously partnered with a much taller woman, surviving various attempts to brain or decapitate him, their whole dance being exquisitely funny and technically amazing.  Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Sophie Martin sparkled in their solos, and I loved the goofily-grinning, ever-so-slightly shy and awkward Constance Devernay – but every single dancer shone in their turn in the spotlight, and looked utterly gorgeous in their elaborately-painted skin-tight bodysuits!

Elite Syncopations was greeted with another storm of cheering and applause from a deeply appreciative audience.  This double bill was the perfect illustration of the excellence we now come to expect from Scottish Ballet: I’m really looking forward to their next première – The Crucible – which will be performed in the Edinburgh International Festival before going to Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness in the autumn.  Don’t miss it!

Scottish Ballet  Spring!, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Run Ended.

Review by Mary Woodward.

Mary Woodward Review

Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Morag Fullarton: Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut

A Play, A Pie & A Pint

***** (5 stars)

You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh…. the fundamental things apply, as time goes by… and as time goes by, we look back fondly at the past, thinking of it as a golden time, when everything was good, life was simple, and there were no problems; the fundamental things were love, and friendship, and loyalty; men were Real men, women were Lovelies, and baddies were Just Plain Bad.  Casablanca speaks to us of all these things, and we remember it fondly, maybe wishing we were Rick, the cynical but soft-hearted owner of Rick’s Cafe, the beautiful and tragic heroine, Ilse, doomed to follow duty with the man to whom she’s married, rather than go with the man she truly loves, and Captain Renault, the cynical French policeman with an eye to the lovelies and a wonderful Gallic shrug…

And it was all there for us to revisit, in Morag Fullarton’s loving homage. The dashing trio were played by Gavin Mitchell, Clare Waugh and Kevin Lennon, the latter two of whom spent much time dashing around playing just about everyone else you remember from the film  with side-splitting virtuosity, while also playing were three actors doing the best they could to bring Classic Movies To The Stage of a not very prestigious theatre, with nothing to follow this gig but the hope of landing a part in whatever they knew was casting next – including Singing in the Rain – and adding in tiny bits of business in the hope that a casting director might be in the audience.

Gavin Mitchell did a magnificent job of ‘being Bogey’, while also managing to send up many of the visual clichés of black and white movies, and especially film noir.   I loved his laconic Bogey-style programme biog – “has done loads of stuff and is looking forward to doing a load more stuff”.  I remember Clare Waugh from her stellar performance in an earlier season’s PPP, Val McDermid’s Margaret Saves Scotland, which I loved, and was most impressed with her ability to transform into ‘Major Strasser and the Third Reich’, while Kevin Lennon’s chameleon-like ability to switch character, accent, body language and personality in a split second was truly magnificent, especially when [with the help of a strategically-placed bead curtain] he played both characters in the scene where Captain Renault has to arrest Victor Laszlo…

There were a lot of laughs and topical/ local jokes and much sending up of contemporary stagecraft – you can’t use cigarettes on stage these days, so at one point Rick did an extraordinarily accurate and complicated mime while at other times another character rushed in to stop the scene just before lighter hit cigarette.  There were a multitude of deliciously funny moments, but all the time the laughter was affectionate, and the audience both relished the humour and adored the romance of the narrative, which was most faithfully played out for us.  We all joined in enthusiastically singing the Marseillaise, thus earning Laszlo’s grateful thanks.    The simple but very authentic-looking set was most cleverly designed: I particularly loved the way Sam, the piano-player, played his vital part despite there being neither piano nor pianist on stage.

Everyone loved it!  No-one wanted the show to end, and really appreciated the surprise bonus appearance after the plane had left for Lisbon with Ilse and Laszlo aboard and Rick and Renault set off to pursue their nascent “beautiful friendship” – with a hint that Renault might want more than a friendship…

Demand for tickets for this show was so high that it was moved into the larger Trav 1 – and still every show is sold out – so get yourself in the queue for returns right now!

Morag Fullarton: Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut, A Play, A Pie & A Pint Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Sat May 4th; SOLD OUT, check box office for returns

Review by Mary Woodward

 

Brett Herriot Review

The Verdict, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

The Verdict, 

**** 4 Stars

A Slow burn but thrilling conclusion!

The Verdict is the debut stage adaptation of the 1982 American legal drama film of the same name directed by Sidney Lumet and written by David Mamet from Barry Reed’s novel of the same name. It starred Paul Newman in the title role of Frank Galvin. Telling the story, of a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer who accepts a medical malpractice case to improve his own situation, but discovers along the way that he is doing the right thing

This stage adaption is credited to the books writer Barry Reed and adapted by Margaret May Hobbs and follows closer to the book rather than the film script and that makes Act 1 a little sluggish, The set up and history of what brings the case of Deborah Ann Doherty vs St Catherine Laboure Hospital to the Count of Suffolk Court  in Boston is laboured in an act that could easily be trimmed by 10 minutes.

Much of the content in act 1 delves into the American justice system and its corruption along with the prosecutions developing case, its also interesting the it’s the catholic church backing the defence case that adds a sinister dimension indeed.

Taking on the role of Frank Galvin is Ian Kelsey who is in fine form as the down on his luck lawyer who crutches on booze, although when Bishop Brophy (Richard Walsh) offers a $300,000 bribe to turn the case down, Kelsey is able to let Galvin’s sense of truth shine through and its wonderful to watch. Joining Kelsey is TV acting star Dennis Lill as Moe Katz the wise cracking Jewish father in law of Galvin who comes out of retirement to assist in the prosecution of the case. Dennis Lill turns in a shining performance that sparkles with comedy whit and is a joy to watch.

This is a all star cast with a 17 strong company performing a multitude of roles, special mention must go to Richard Walsh who not only performs the role of Bishop Brophy but delivers a stealthy turn as Judge Eldridge Sweeney, know as a defenders judge he at times begins trying the prosecutions case instead of Galvin and leads to some brilliant comedy asides that helps lift the darker moments of the play. Also worthy of credit is Holly Jackson Walters in the role of Natalie Stampanatto, the admissions nurse who is forced out of her profession but ultimately holds the key to the truth, her moment in the dock during Act 2 is a moment of expertly delivered performance that leaves you feeling the pain she has suffered in revisiting old wounds.

Act 2 is truly where this production shines with Michael Lunney’s design taking us right into the heart of the courtroom, Lunney also directs the production and achieves a great deal of detail from all the characters and keeps the twists and turns coming at a nice pace in Act 2. Mix this with Jeremy Barnaby’s evocative lighting design and Lynette Webster music and a sound design from White Tip Media and your getting a winning evening of court room drama, yes the verdict asks the question, What price the truth? well it’s a slow burn but ultimately  leads to a thrilling conclusion so book those tickets now.

Middle Ground Theatre Company Presents “The Verdict”, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 4th May, Then UK tour continues, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/verdict

Mary Woodward Preview

Scottish Opera Season Preview!

Our very own Mary shines the spotlight on Scottish Opera’s upcoming team.

EUROPEAN PREMIERE OF MISSY MAZZOLI’S BREAKING THE WAVES AT EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL 

The European premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s dark and daring opera, Breaking the Waves, takes place at this summer’s Edinburgh International Festival. It opens on August 21 at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for three performances.

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Based on Lars von Trier’s award-winning film, Breaking the Waves is directed by Tom Morris, the Tony Award-winning Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic whose work includes War Horse, Touching the Void and The Death of Klinghoffer at ENO and the Met.

Scottish Opera Music Director Stuart Stratford conducts soloists of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera.  American soprano Sydney Mancasola, a grand finals winner of the 2013 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, is Bess McNeill, a young woman living in a deeply religious community in the Scottish Highlands in the 1970s.

 

Also in the cast are Edinburgh-born baritone Duncan Rock as Bess’s husband Jan Nyman; Wallis Giunta, winner of the 2018 International Opera Awards’ Young Singer of the Year; Orla Boylan; former Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Ariadne auf Naxos 2017); Byron Jackson and Freddie Tong. The libretto is by Royce Vavrek and the set and costume designer is Soutra Gilmour.

Breaking the Waves caused a sensation when it premiered at Opera Philadelphia in 2016, and went on to win the 2017 Best New Opera from the Music Critics Association of North America and was shortlisted for an International Opera Award.

Alex Reedijk, Scottish Opera General Director said: ‘Breaking the Waves is our second co-production with Opera Ventures for the Edinburgh International Festival, following the critical success of Greek in 2017. Missy Mazzoli is one of America’s finest contemporary composers, and we are so excited to be part of the journey for her incredible work’s European premiere, with the very talented Tom Morris directing and our own brilliant Music Director Stuart Stratford  conducting.’

John Berry, Artistic Director and Founder of Opera Ventures said: ‘Opera Ventures’ first project, Greek by Mark-Anthony Turnage, made a huge impact in Scotland and New York City, and we are delighted to follow this with Breaking the Waves by one of the most theatrical operatic voices of her generation, Missy Mazzoli. This new production shows the significant value of international collaboration and philanthropic support in bringing contemporary opera to a wider audience. I am very pleased to be working again with director Tom Morris.’

This production has been made possible with support from Howard and Sarah Solomon Foundation, Denise Coates Foundation, Karl Sydow, Scottish Opera’s New Commissions Circle, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music and a syndicate of donors.

SCOTTISH OPERA ANNOUNCES 2019/20 SEASON

Scottish Opera has unveiled its 2019/20 Season which includes a European premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival, three further new productions, one revival, six titles in the Opera in Concert series, and the world premiere of a new ‘opera for toddlers’ at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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  • European premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves at Edinburgh International Festival, directed by Tom Morris  
  • Anthony Besch’s much-loved production of Puccini’s Tosca opens main season
  • Scottish Opera premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China, conducted by Joana Carneiro and directed by John Fulljames
  • Dominic Hill, Artistic Director of Citizens Theatre, directs new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Stuart Maunder directs a new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Gondoliers
  • World premiere of Fox-tot!, a new opera for toddlers by former Scottish Opera Composer in Residence, Lliam Paterson, directed by Roxana Haines
  • Scottish Opera returns to Lammermuir Festival with a double bill
  • Opera in Concert performances continue celebrations of Mascagni and Gilbert & Sullivan
  • Amadeus & The Bard explores the links between Mozart and Robert Burns Opera Highlights visits 34 venues around Scotland in Autumn 2019 and Spring 2020

A truly international line-up of singers appears throughout the Season. Making their debuts with the Company are Trevor Eliot Bowes, Orla Boylan, Wallis Giunta, Eric Greene, Byron Jackson and Sydney Mancasola.

There are welcome return visits from Evez Abdulla, Mark Le Brocq, Richard Burkhard, Emma Carrington, Sioned Gwen Davies, Aidan Edwards, Jennifer France, Morten Grove Frandsen, Ric Furman, Justina Gringyte, Katie Grosset, Aled Hall, Hanna Hipp, Charlotte Hoather, Paul Carey Jones, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Ellie Laugharne, Jessica Leary, Hye-Youn Lee, Nicholas Lester, Jamie MacDougall, Ben McAteer, William Morgan, Lancelot Nomura, Clare Presland, Sarah Pring, Daniel Keating-Roberts, Duncan Rock, Natalya Romaniw, David Shipley, Michel de Souza, Julia Sporsén, David Stout, Richard Suart, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Freddie Tong, Sinéad Campbell-Wallace, Roland Wood and Dingle Yandell.

Alex Reedijk, General Director, said: ‘This Season, Scottish Opera brings a diverse range of titles, including 12 operas, to audiences in over 50 venues all over Scotland and beyond. From 20th century masterpieces by Benjamin Britten and John Adams to much-loved works by Gilbert & Sullivan and Puccini, and an intriguing Opera in Concert series curated by Music Director Stuart Stratford, there is a wonderful array of operatic fare.

‘Directing our full-scale productions are five great talents: Jonathan Cocker, who is reviving Anthony’s Besch’s iconic Tosca which opens the Season; John Fulljames; Dominic Hill; Tom Morris and Stuart Maunder. Creative partnerships are crucial to what we do, so it’s thrilling to be working alongside festivals, companies and opera houses locally, nationally and internationally. The Company is greatly looking forward to returning to the Lammermuir Festival, and to taking Missy Mazzoli’s sensational Breaking the Waves to the Edinburgh International Festival.

‘The ever-inventive Outreach and Education Department builds on the success of our work for young children with the world premiere of Fox-tot!, by the brilliant, young Scottish composer Lliam Paterson, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Scottish Opera Young Company returns to the stage with Sondheim; we present three Dementia Friendly performances as well as Spinning Songs and Memory Spinners workshops; and we tour Pop-up Opera, The Opera Factory and our Primary Schools Tour.’

Stuart Stratford, Scottish Opera Music Director, added: ‘We are committed to exploring some lesser known repertoire in our Opera in Concert performances, and I am delighted that we are continuing our Mascagni odyssey with a double bill of Zanetto, performed with Wolf- Ferrari’s Susanna’s Secret. Mascagni’s Iris is also not to be missed, and the series comes full circle to finish with Cavalleria rusticana, the piece that catapulted Mascagni to success. It is paired with Leoncavallo’s Zingari. Another rarity can be heard in our semi-staged performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Utopia, Limited, which stands alongside our new touring production of The Gondoliers.

‘I am thrilled our new Season gets underway at the Edinburgh International Festival with the European premiere of Breaking the Waves by the exciting American composer, Missy Mazzoli. Nixon in China is another modern American classic. It still resonates with today’s global politics, and it changed the rulebook of what contemporary opera could be. John Adams’ soundworld continues to influence generations of new composers. Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream completes our trio of work from the 20th and 21st centuries, with a new staging by Citizens Theatre Artistic Director, Dominic Hill.’

Preview by Mary Woodward

 

Mary Woodward Review

Rob Drummond: The Mack,Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Rob Drummond: The Mack, A Play, A Pie & A Pint

***** (5 stars)

This play, particularly apposite in the light of the recent fire at Notre Dame, neatly side-steps the issue of whether the cost of restoration could be better spent helping people in need, and is an engrossing three-hander which is played out in front of a simple, instantly recognisable Rennie Mackintosh rose, with the cast sitting on three equally iconic black ladder-back chairs.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh himself [a delightful performance from James McAnerney] took the centre chair and gave us a delightful rendition of extracts from the twenty-three letters – the only surviving record of how or what he thought and felt – written to his wife Margaret Macdonald during their separation when he stayed in France while she went home to recover from an [undisclosed] illness.  Seated each side of him were Frances, an American art historian [Janet Coulson], and Wayne [John Michie], a very Scottish senior fire officer, who began talking of their memories of the fires which destroyed “the Mack” – the Glasgow School of Art building designed by Mackintosh, and for which he is probably best known.

It was interesting that author Rob Drummond felt it necessary to preface his play with a disclaimer that Frances & Wayne were NOT based on ‘real people’ i.e. recognisable individuals…  The two of them seemed to be in an interview situation, but it was not clear who was doing the interviewing, or whether they were in the same room at the same time: their reactions and stories overlapped but didn’t intertwine until the closing moments of the play.

Their initial responses were fairly unemotional and factual, Frances telling how as a student she became fascinated with Mackintosh and devoted her life to studying his life and his work.  She put The Mack into context, telling us about Charles’ early days and his meeting with and subsequent marriage to Margaret, a student at the art college.  Wayne talked about the challenges of being a fireman, and how it’s not all sitting around playing cards and keeping fit – mostly these days about health and safety and the properties of chemicals.  Rarely, he said, do firemen go into burning buildings these days – but in the case of the Mack, 120 firemen went inside the building, not to rescue trapped people but to try to save the building and remove as many artefacts as possible.

Mackintosh, meanwhile, was writing loving letters to ‘my Margaret’ from ‘your Toshie’, commenting on the lack of other guests in the hotel, visits from a raven who tells him long stores he isn’t able to understand, and sadly remarking that mealtimes lose all their savour when there is no-one with whom to converse…  He seemed to be trying his best to appear cheerful and to enjoy his life, but it became clear that all was not well and he was painfully lonely.

Both Frances and Wayne began to reveal cracks in their seemingly competent and capable façades.  Each was in their own way deeply affected by the fires and each slowly unravels.  Frances is isolated in her solitude, unable to share with anyone the grief she hardly realises she’s feeling, and slowly becoming a prisoner in her own flat, unable to go out and uninterested in eating.  Wayne is isolated in a work situation which needs you “to be strong for the people around you” and is overwhelmed when all the deeply-buried memories of the horrors witnessed in other fires start to emerge.  In each case a sudden event forces them to accept help, and they both come to realise that talking about how they feel and being listened to, being heard, is the most important thing of all.  In the case of the Mack, it’s not the rebuilding of the structure itself that’s important, but rebuilding it for the people who use it.

This was a superb piece of acting, all three protagonists slowly revealing their inner pain, often without words, and with an expressive soundtrack by VanIves.  The three narrative strands overlapped, at times echoed and reflected each other, and raised questions and ideas that will hopefully have sent the audience out of Traverse 2 with much to think and talk about.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was lovingly brought to life – he seems to have been a lovely man, who greatly missed his Margaret, who played so huge a part in all his achievements: Sadly he returned from France to rejoin her with the tongue and throat cancer that was to kill him: and his most lasting memorial no longer exists – even if it is rebuilt, it can only be a copy…  and we’ve not even mentioned the cost!

Rob Drummond: The Mack, A Play, A Pie & A Pint, Traverse Theatre, Edinburg run ends Saturday 27th April for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-the-mack

review by Mary Woodward

Arts News!

MGA Foundation Gala Ball

A Glittering Evening to Support Theatre’s Next Generation.

The MGA School of the performing arts, Scotland’s leading training institute launched  The MGA Foundation to improve access to Performing Arts opportunities for those who cannot afford them without our help.

The MGA Foundation was officially established as a registered charity in 2017 but MGA has, over the last ten years, already awarded tuition fee support worth over £600,000 to young people pursuing training opportunities in performing arts.

The Foundation aims to provide financial support to people residing in Scotland towards the costs of part-time and full-time training in singing, acting and musical theatre at reputable schools and accredited colleges throughout the UK. Although growing from a commitment to young people endeavouring to train professionally in Edinburgh, the MGA Foundation is broadening access to encompass workshops, youth theatre and part-time and full-time training opportunities across the UK to all those who call Scotland their home.

To mark the formal launch of the foundation Join them for a spectacular evening of fundraising in the glamorous surroundings of The Stables at the Prestonfield House Hotel where you will be treated to bubbles on arrival, a sumptuous three-course dinner, spectacular entertainment and many a wallet-lightening activity!

MGA ball 4

This, inaugural event is your chance to join the Foundation at the very beginning of their exciting future.  Tickets are  strictly limited in numbers and both Murray Grant and Andrew Gowland look forward to welcoming you to what promises to be a night to remember.  #FundingTheFuture

Tickets include: Drinks reception on arrival between 18:30 and 19:15, three course dinner, entertainment, late night dancing with carriages at 01:00.

VIP Tables include: Dedicated pre-event drinks reception with The MGA Foundation Board of Trustees and special guests, stage view table seating, a single entry into the raffle draw per person and a bottle of white wine and bottle of red wine per table.

Its also been confirmed that west end and Broadway Star Kerry Ellis will top the bill on the evening, it promises to be something very special indeed. So what you waiting for, break out the glad rags and buy those tickets!

The MGA Foundation Gala Ball, Saturday 11th May, Prestonfield House, Edinburgh for tickets go to: https://the-core-shop-edinburgh.myshopify.com/collections/core-and-foundation-events/products/gala-dinner-11th-may-2019

 

 

Mary Woodward Review

Mascagni Silvano: Scottish Opera in Concert Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Review

Mascagni Silvano: Scottish Opera in Concert

**** (4 stars)

Conductor Stuart Stratford bounced on to the stage and gave us a lengthy but fascinating answer to the question he’d been asked a few days previously – “Why do you put on all these obscure operas?” We had a quick canter through the best of this season’s programme and the goodies to look out for next season as part of the answer – as well as doing classics from the repertoire [Magic Flute, Tosca] Scottish Opera put on modern and specially commissioned works [Greek, Flight, Anthropocene, Nixon in China, Breaking the Waves, and a new tinies’ opera Fox-Tot!]  It’s good to work on finding new insights into stalwarts of the operatic canon, and exciting to work on something new whether on something newly-composed or, as with Silvano, something that’s been around for years but dropped out of sight until unearthed and found to be a brilliant piece that deserves to be heard.

On a first hearing, there was a lot to like about Silvano, especially the chorus numbers which eloquently depicted the beauty of the sea on to which the local fishermen set sail every evening, returning with the light of dawn.  The orchestral writing was good, though of the ‘let’s just double the vocal line to emphasise it’ rather than the Puccini-style ‘let’s have interesting tunes wandering through the orchestra and have some sort of a vocal line on top’.

The four soloists did a good job of selling this ‘new’ music to us. Alexey Dolgov’s tenor gleamed after an initial dampness [possibly due to a cold or some such affliction?] but at times the orchestra overwhelmed him – they usually sit in the pit: were they so excited at being on display that they were unable to rein in their enthusiasm in the ‘good bits’?  David Stout’s incisive baritone matched his aggressive, domineering character and music, though he swithered rather between noble renunciation and villainous spite.  Leah-Marian Jones didn’t have much to do as Silvano’s mother, but did it well, especially her loving response to her son’s emotional outpourings.  Emma Bell, in her Scottish Opera début, had a lot of agonising to do, and did it very well, her somewhat metallic soprano riding the orchestra with ease: but her character didn’t really convince – not her fault, with composer and librettist both giving a male view of a woman’s behaviour and motivation!

The basic plot is, as ever, a love triangle: this time set in an Italian fishing village. Silvano and Matilde were to be married, but Silvano was accused of smuggling and had to go into hiding – during which time Matilde became involved with his best friend Renzo.  Silvano suddenly appears, having been pardoned: he can’t understand why Matilde is less than overjoyed and protests that she is unworthy.  Renzo comes in, hoping for a good day’s fishing: a quarrel develops when he calls Silvano a bandit.  Peace is eventually restored between the two men, who set off together – but Renzo reappears and reminds Matilde of their liaison, saying he will not let her go.  Matilde is unwillingly forced to agree to meet him that night.

Silvano praises the calmness of the evening sea, and regrets that he is too late to join any of the fishing boats. He tells his mother of Matilde’s devotion to him while he was in hiding, and reluctantly she agrees to her son’s marriage.  He goes to join his beloved – but she appears with Renzo, warning him that Silvano will kill her if he finds them together.  Silvano returns, Renzo hides: Matilde denies that she was talking to anyone, but Renzo reappears.  Silvano kills him and flees, leaving Matilde alone.

Silvano and Renzo are very different characters – the one quiet and introspective, the other outgoing and confident – and this is reflected in their music. Rosa, Silvano’s mother, is motivated by love for her son.  Matilde, though, seems harder to understand: she spends so much of her time wailing remorsefully that it’s hard to see what either man saw in her, and she seems trapped in her remorse [like Santuzza in Mascagni’s still-current Cavalleria Rusticana, a guilt-ridden Catholic – but unlike Santuzza, given solely to weeping and wringing her hands, without the fire that makes Santuzza so much more appealing a heroine].  Her part seemed virtually one-dimensional, as she changed her mind almost constantly depending on which of the two men she was with – her liaison with Renzo seemed to be almost accidental but she was unable to resist his threats despite what she professed to be her undying love for Silvano…  The translation we were given in supertitles was mercifully free from bad jokes and punning humour, but I have no way of knowing how accurately it reflected the Italian libretto, which on a first hearing had some lovely lyrical lines when describing the scenery, but was less intelligible when it came to the Matilde’s motivation – but as I’ve said, maybe composer and librettist were less interested in that than in painting the luckless temptress in a ‘doomed love triangle’.

Whatever the motivation, Mascagni knew how to write emotive music, and as the final thrilling chords of the opera died away, the disappointingly small audience erupted in cheers, stamping and sustained applause – they obviously found the work a great hit which deserves to be seen more frequently.

Mascagni Silvano: Scottish Opera in Concert, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Run Ended