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Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Opera, Giuseppe Verdi:Falstaff, Review

***** (5 stars) 

Opera Comes Alive Again!

A LIVE performance – oh what heaven!  Yes, we were effectively outdoors [though under a pretty effective ‘roof’] but there were real singers on stage, a real [socially-distanced and slightly uncomfortably-seated] audience [remember to bring a cushion, friends!] and a real orchestra – admittedly, sitting apart from us in the rehearsal studio itself, but through the wonders of technology everything happened together, and OPERA CAME ALIVE AGAIN…

Verdi used Shakespeare’s play as the basis for his opera.  The ageing Sir John, former best buddy of Prince Hal, is in somewhat reduced circumstances now that King Henry V has dropped him: but he still fancies his chances with the ladies.  He sends love letters to the lovely Alice, wife of Ford, and to Meg Page.  In both he proclaims his undying devotion and seeks an assignation: but alas, his page Robin delivers each [identical] letter to the wrong lady… 

Alice and Meg, together with Alice’s daughter Nannetta and Mistress Quickly, plot Falstaff’s undoing.  Ford is told that he is about to be cuckolded by Sir John and plots an elaborate revenge, only to be foiled by the ladies who decide to take matters into their own hands and also ensure that Nannetta be saved from a forced marriage to Dr Caius and instead weds her sweetheart, Fenton.  Falstaff’s long-standing partners in crime, Bardolph and Pistol, switch allegiance and join with the plotters, with hilarious results – but at the end of the opera everyone is prepared to forgive, and join in a chorus exclaiming that life is a burst of laughter, be happy hereafter and laugh at our sorrow.

The production is shared with the Santa Fe Opera, whose theatre has double doors that can be opened to frame the desert sunset as a backdrop to the action:  here in Glasgow they opened to a backdrop of trees which both hid the unmistakably urban setting of the rehearsal studio and was particularly effective for Windsor Great Park scene with its rather strange but undeniably effective great, ruined, Herne’s Oak.   

The set had a superb bridge spanning the stage, with the space below it amply large enough to accommodate Falstaff’s gargantuan bed or the interior of Ford’s house.  Multi-branched staircases allowed the cast to move freely so that one scene flowed into another, and one ‘faction’ among the cast could eavesdrop comfortably on another, while giving ample scope for virtually the whole cast to rush around wildly in Ford’s house as the household searched for the amorous intruder.

Further joy came from the fabulous costumes – the wardrobe department must have gone into ecstasies on being asked to produce elaborate and brightly-coloured gorgeous 17th century Cavalier costumes [and not just for the women!].  Even Ford and Dr Caius’ black and white costumes were dripping with lace, forming a strong contrast to the Puritan severity of Fenton’s black and white outfit [was that why Ford didn’t want his daughter to marry him?]. Falstaff’s bed-gown and giant fur-collared over-robe were deeply impressive – and as for the stunning effect of his ‘I’m going courting’ outfit: utterly magnificent, and worn with such panache!

Roland Wood / Falstaff’s voice was huge and powerful, matching his enormous personality; he was still vigorous despite his advancing age, and showed the greatness of his heart that, after all the indignities he suffered, he was able to laugh at himself and invite his antagonists to join in the final burst of laughter.  

Elizabeth Llewellyn’s Alice, Sioned Gwen Davies’ Meg, Gemma Summerfield’s Nannetta and Louise Winter’s Mistress Quickly were a strong quartet of women, refusing to be manipulated by their menfolk, and determined neither to be taken advantage of nor to be oppressed.  Elgan Llŷr Thomas’s gentle and lyrical Fenton was in strong contrast to Phillip Rhodes’ fiery and autocratic Ford, refusing to consider that his wife would not give in to the advances of a would-be seducer but happy to give his own daughter in marriage to a grey-haired, slimy, Malvolio-like sycophant [Aled Hall as a brilliantly repulsive Dr Caius].  

Jamie MacDougall’s very Scottish, kilted and bonneted Bardolph and Alastair Miles’ lanky and lugubrious Pistol were splendid comic relief, [with Jamie MacD’s fabulous pantomime dame act at the end milking it for all it’s worth] – so funny that it could have been easy to overlook the excellence of their singing.  All in all, a superb cast, rightly dominated by the magnificent Roland Wood.

David McVicar has, as always, created a production that tells the story clearly while also bringing out extensive detail in individual characterisations – not least in the excellent work of the non-singing actors Lauren Ellis-Steele, Jamie Francis, Caleb Hughes, Josh Kiernan, Allan Othenio and Sally Swanson].  He also designed this excellent production – and the extraordinary collection of ‘creatures’ which appear to torment Falstaff in the final act are reason alone to see this work.

Amanda Holden’s translation is good and entertaining – though as ever, fitting English to notes written for Italian lyrics does not always serve the melody.  Derek Clark was conducting the orchestra away to our left in the main rehearsal building: he did an outstanding job of keeping it all together [how they did it I have no idea – more technical wizardry that we come to take for granted]. Scottish Opera’s orchestra played as brilliantly as ever and were rightly greeted with whoops and cheers as they emerged to take their own [masked and distanced] applause at the end of the show.

Above all, there was the sheer joy of being in a live audience, with live performers who were obviously all relishing being back on stage with us.  Performances in Glasgow continue till 17 July: if you’ve not managed to see it, make sure you book for the Edinburgh performances as part of the International Festival!

Scottish Opera Rehearsal Studios 15 July 2021 – till 17 July, Run Ended , Reopens for Edinburgh International Festival at the Festival Theatre, 8th – 14th August for tickets go to: https://www.eif.co.uk/events/falstaff

Mary Woodward

Brett Herriot Review

A Splinter of Ice, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, Review:

**** (4 stars)

“Taught and Engaging”

Following the longest period in history of every theatre in Scotland going dark, the curtain has risen once more at Edinburgh’s Kings Theatre with the taught and engaging exploration of what it meant to be a spy in Ben Brown’s masterful, A Splinter of Ice.

Set in Moscow on a freezing winters night in February 1987, the cold war much like the USSR is in it death throws, this true life story catches up with the ailing Kim Philby (played with deft and understated touch by Stephen Boxer) the British double agent who defected behind the iron curtain in 1963. Philby was believed to have been recruited by the KGB in 1934 and was implicated in the “Cambridge Five” affair along with selling secrets during World War 2.

Philby is reunited with his protégé Graham Greene ( a tour de force performance from Oliver Ford Davies), Greene who would go on to be an acclaimed novelist, dramatist and screen writer worked in MI6 during the war bringing him into contact with Philby starting a lifelong friendship.  

It’s that friendship that is the crux of the play, the two old friends spend a night over dinner reflecting back on a life in the spy business, and find the inescapable truth that even in later years they are still keeping secrets, they are however more reflective on the true human cost their actions created.

This is a triple hander with the role of Philby’s wife Rufa, being played by Karen Ascoe. Ascoe truly delivers in her limited stage time as a woman clearly driven by love and the realisation that nothing material lasts forever but love endures.

A Splinter of ice is beautifully written by Ben Brown who has clearly done the research that allows the cast to bring these characters to life, with taught, tight direction from Alan Strachan who also peppers the play with moments of wry comedy it makes for a thrilling return to theatre.

Production wise Jason Taylors Lighting design is stark in its simplicity but inventive in making the location of the flat and building clear. This added to Michael Pavelka’s striking set and costume design and Max Pappenheim’s Sound (he is also the composer) ensures this intimate west end treat of play succeeds.

A Splinter of Ice excels in transporting the audience back to a time before the digital age where to be a spy truly was putting your life on the line, and accepting the consequences will shape the rest of your life.

If you like your theatre, engaging, thought provoking and real this is unmissable and after the darkness of closed theatres is a joy to raise the curtain too.

Original Theatre Presents, A Splinter of Ice, Kings Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 17th July, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/a-splinter-of-ice

Arts News!

Capital Theatres re-emerging from the Darkness

Capital Theatres Re-opening Plans!

Capital Theatres who operate The Festival Theatre, The King’s Theatre and The Studio in Edinburgh have confirmed they will open there doors from 29 June 2021 welcoming the first in-person audiences to their venues in 15 months.

Audiences can look forward to series of socially distanced performances over the summer alongside enhanced COVID safety measures, working towards a full programme of events from the autumn onwards.

Speaking to Scotsgay Arts Fiona Gibson, CEO of Capital Theatres said:

“After closing our doors on 16 March and ‘going dark’ for longer than any of us would ever have imagined; we’re delighted to be able to welcome our audiences back into our theatres. We’ve worked closely with Scottish Government and the wider theatre industry to ensure that audiences can feel safe, comfortable and secure as they return to the joy of live performance. Our summer programme, using socially distanced seating plans, will build the confidence of audience, staff and artists alike as we look forward to a full programme of events this autumn, bringing you all the thrilling variety and entertainment which Capital Theatres is famous for.”

The Donmar’s Production of Blindness

The Festival Theatre will open on 29 June with Blindness, a theatrical sound installation from the Donmar Warehouse with the voice of Juliet Stephenson. After critically acclaimed sell-out runs in London and New York, Edinburgh audiences will experience this unique event on the Festival Theatre stage itself.  In July the Festival Theatre will welcome  Zog; Caitlin Moran: More Than A Woman LIVE!; Silent Cinema: A Night of Laurel & Hardy; Rosie Kay: Absolute Solo II; all on socially distanced seating plans in line with the latest government guidance.  Looking to August Scottish Opera will return to the Festival Theatre with Falstaff as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.

The Grand old Lady of Leven Street, The King’s Theatre will reopen with spy thriller A Splinter of Ice starring Oliver Ford Davies (Game of Thrones, Star Wars) as Graham Greene, Stephen Boxer (The Crown) as Kim Philby running from Tuesday 13th July. The kings will then return to its full capacity for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me On A Sunday starring Jodi Prenger running from Tuesday 14th September.

Both The Festival and The King’s will be fully programmed from September onwards. Highlights include Grease; The Play That Goes Wrong; Dirty Dancing; Bedknobs and Broomsticks; Six; Wise Children’s Wuthering Heights; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; National Theatre of Scotland’s Orphans and The Enemy; Stewart Lee and just announced The Cher Show.

The Magic of Panto will Return to the Kings!

Looking ahead to the end of the year, Capital Theatres have confirmed the return of the much-loved Christmas shows; The King’s Panto Sleeping Beauty there is no word on casting as yet but its expected Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and Jordan Young will all return. The Festival theatre will welcome Scottish Ballet’s The Nutcracker as there festive treat.

Capital Theatres have yet to announce the programme for The Studio but hopefully it too will open its doors soon. After the longest dark period in history, it’s wonderful to see the biggest theatres in Edinburgh and indeed Scotland emerging with exciting plans and a programme that truly has something on offer for everyone.

For more information on all productions and to book tickets go to: www.capitaltheatres.com

Preview

Edinburgh International Festival 2021, Preview:

The International Festival returns:

Edinburgh International Festival, the world’s leading performing arts festival, pioneers the return of live performance in Scotland from 7th – 29th August with a diverse programme of UK and international artists. The return of live performance marks a significant turning point for Scotland’s cultural sector by providing a platform for artists to return to the stage after over a year. The Festival’s ambition is to pave the way for other organisations to rebuild their own live performance programmes and to re-establish Edinburgh as a global celebration of culture.  The 2021 programme features over 170 classical and contemporary music, theatre, opera, dance and spoken word performances, including 15 new commissions and premieres. Audience safety is central to the planning of the 2021 Festival, with measures including outdoor venues, social distancing, shorter performances with no intervals, audience members seated in bubbles and, in a first for the International Festival, online access to 21 free full-length performances.

specially constructed outdoor venues feature in this years festival

Venues being used for the 2021 Festival include especially constructed outdoor venues at Edinburgh Academy Junior School, Parabola’s Edinburgh Park development and the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad, alongside carefully planned performances at the Festival Theatre, Traverse Theatre, The Royal Lyceum Theatre and Dance Base.

Highlights of the programme include:

• Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event: Night Light – A free large-scale fire night-walk, created by French artist collective Compagnie Carabosse, that combines elaborate fire sculptures and live traditional Scottish music against the backdrop of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

• Two operas-in-concert featuring two of the world’s most celebrated sopranos. A new concert staging of Ariadne auf Naxos stars Dorothea Röschmann in the title role alongside David Butt Philip as Bacchus. Composer Errollyn Wallen continues the story of Dido and Aeneas in Dido’s Ghost, interweaving the music of Purcell’s original tragedy within her own new opera which stars South African soprano Golda Schultz.

• The world premiere of Medicine, Enda Walsh’s latest play featuring star of stage-and-screen Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, Brooklyn, The Revenant, Star Wars VIII & IX, Harry Potter series), which examines society’s relation with mental health.

• Nicola Benedetti in residence across two weeks at the Festival, appearing with the Benedetti Baroque Orchestra, with a specially selected ensemble in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale and in a solo performance The Story of the Violin.

Alan Cumming returns for the 2021 Festival

• Alan Cumming returning to the Festival for the first UK performances of his new show Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age, an evening of story and song which celebrates ageing.  Alan returns to the festival following his sell out success with Alan Cumming sings sappy songs in 2016.

• A contemporary music line-up including London-based guitar bands black midi and Black Country, New Road; new jazz from Kokoroko, The Comet is Coming and Moses Boyd; iconic female voices including Laura Mvula, Nadine Shah and Kathryn Joseph; Anna Meredith’s return to the International Festival; West Lothian indie band The Snuts; and Damon Albarn performs tracks from his extensive back catalogue, including current project The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows. Visiting international artists include Fatoumata Diawara, Sona Jobarteh, Tune-Yards and Caribou.

• Scottish Opera returning to the International Festival with a new production of Falstaff by Glasgow-born director Sir David McVicar.

• Leading orchestras from across the UK including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko and featuring Isata Kannah-Mason, the London Symphony Orchestra led by Sir Simon Rattle, the Chineke! Orchestra with William Eddins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Dalia Stasevska.

• Global figures in classical music lead and perform with Scottish orchestras, including two concerts with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, one conducted by Valery Gergiev and featuring Daniil Trifonov and another led by Elim Chan with Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta. Marin Alsop conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a programme including Beethoven’s Fifth and Kazushi Ono leads the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

• Dance includes a new filmed version of Akram Khan’s Chotto Xenos, four dance films from international choreographers Omar Rajeh, Gregory Maqoma, Alice Ripoll and Janice Parker for Dancing in the Streets and Curious Seed’s Field – Something for the Future Now.

• Thomas Quasthoff featured in three performances across the Festival, appearing in Ariadne auf Naxos as the Major Domo, leading his jazz quartet for an intimate evening of vocal classics and hosting two public masterclasses with outstanding young singers.

• The Royal Lyceum Theatre plays host to live audiences for the first time in over year, with a programme including the National of Scotland’s Lament for Sheku Bayoh and rehearsed readings of Hindu Times by Jaimini Jethwa and You Bury Me by Ahlam.

A Grand Night for Singing

A Grand Night for Singing – a staged musical revue which showcases the iconic songs of classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. Staged by musical theatre performer Kim Criswell and conducted by Wayne Marshall, the handpicked cast features Criswell alongside Danielle de Niese.

• The Old College Quad series of intimate recitals including performances from piano masters Elisabeth Leonskaja, Mariam Batsashvili, Ronald Brautigam and the much-loved Scottish pianist Malcolm Martineau celebrating the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott’s birth. Vocal recitals include Norwegian lyric soprano Mari Eriksmoen in her International Festival debut, Gerald Finley and Renée Fleming with chamber music from Chineke! Chamber Ensemble, Zehetmair Quartet and more.

In the Tradition – a programme of traditional Scottish music and interconnected folk traditions which features leading artists and ensembles such as Rura, Talisk, the Kinnaris Quintet, Karine Polwart and Siobhan Miller

As part of the International Festival’s ongoing commitment to accessibility, the 2021 programme includes audio described, captioned and British Sign Language interpreted performances, free tickets to classical music concerts for 200 young people and a free, large-scale opening event.

General booking for the 2021 International Festival opens on Friday 11 June.

Fergus Linehan, Festival Director, Edinburgh International Festival said:

“The programme we are announcing today represents a carefully organised return to live performance. It is a collaborative effort between those who live in our city, our artists, the team at the festival, our donors and stakeholders and all who will be coming along to our performances.

“While so much has been written and said about the challenges of the past 15 months, it is now time to look to the future and to the brilliant musicians, actors, dancers and poets who are getting ready to perform Edinburgh this August.

“I would like to pay tribute to everyone involved in the Festival who has worked tirelessly in extraordinary circumstances and to thank our many partner organisations and stakeholders who have contributed to this programme. None of us can be certain of what the coming months will bring but we are committed to working together on returning to the joy of live performance.”

The 2021 festival promises a diverse plethora of artists across the programme drawing heavily on home grown talent. Following the cancellation of last year’s festival, it’s vital this year’s event re-establishes itself as the bench mark for the arts thus ensuring Scotland continues to lead the arts world. A programme of this calibre ensures we are now well on our way to achieving that.

So check the programme for yourself and get booking those tickets.

 The Edinburgh International Festival will run from the 7th – 29th August across the capital for full details and tickets (box office opens 11th June) go to: www.eif.co.uk

Mary Woodward Preview

Scottish Opera presents L’ELISIR D’AMORE

SCOTTISH OPERA INTOXICATES WITH DONIZETTI’S COMIC ELIXIR –  L’ELISIR D’AMORE

On Thursday 17 June Scottish Opera premieres a new film of Donizetti’s charming opera L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) in the latest Scottish Opera: On Screen

Donizetti was a highly significant figure in Italian opera in the 1830s, with this comic opera being one of the most frequently performed at the time. It continues to be hugely popular today. The story is a rom-com in which the poor and naive gardener Nemorino, besotted with the beautiful and wealthy Adina, struggles to overcome the difference in social class to express his love for her. When the eccentric travelling performer Dulcamara arrives in town, deceiving locals with his lure and wit, Nemorino falls for his charm, convinced he can win Adina’s heart with Dulcamara’s magic ‘elixir of love’.

Filmed at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal on 22 May 2021, it will be available to watch on the Scottish Opera website from Thursday 17 June at 7pm in collaboration with Perth Festival. Before then, BBC Radio Scotland features audio excerpts from the performance as part of a special Classics Unwrapped, presented by Jamie MacDougall, on Sunday 13 June.

Director Roxana Haines (Così fan tutte 2020, La bohème 2020) creates a setting in the Austen era, twenty years before the opera was written, decorating the Theatre Royal Glasgow as lavish estate grounds, ideal for the collision of the worlds of high regency England and working class.  

Packed full of humour and uplifting melodies, Roxana’s re-telling is the perfect summer romance to transport audiences to a different era, with extravagant period inspired costumes and intricate commedia dell’arte puppetry.

Director, Roxana Haines said: ‘Setting the narrative twenty years earlier means we can relocate it to Regency England; a time when social distancing was part of social etiquette, allowing us to embrace this as the norm in the film. This era, most familiar to us through Jane Austen’s novels, was laced with obsessions with social status and romance across class boundaries, all perfectly mirrored in Donizetti’s comedy.’

The cast includes guest principal Roland Wood (La bohème 2020, Tosca 2019) and three of the 2020/21 Scottish Opera Emerging Artists who also appeared in the 2020 film of Così fan tutteCatriona Hewitson as Adina, Shengzhi Ren as Nemorino and Arthur Bruce as Belcore. This is their final film together as Emerging Artists. Elena Garrido Madrona from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Alexander Gibson Opera School is Giannetta. Stuart Stratford conducts the cast along with a full-size Orchestra of Scottish Opera (physically distanced on the stage), as well as an impressive 18 strong chorus as upper class society.

Jonathan Haswell is Film Director, having previously worked on the Company’s Così fan tutte 2020 and Hansel and Gretel 2021. With the increasing demand for digital performances over the last year, Jonathan has worked with the Company to help bring opera into the homes of thousands through the Scottish Opera: On Screen collection.

An Audio Described version of the film will also be made available. This is the latest in Scottish Opera’s Audio Described opera films, all of which have proved extremely popular with viewers.

Available to watch via Scottish Opera’s website: www.scottishopera.org.uk/shows/lelisir-damore/.