The Puccini Collection

Caird Hall, Dundee

It is likely that this one-off in what is arguably Scotland’s grandest and most under-used concert hall had its singular shape dictated by its financial foundations, but it did seem a bit of a missed opportunity that only Sunday’s ticket-holders were able to enjoy it. Scottish Opera has blazed a trail for filmed performances of high standard during the pandemic, and this brisk trot through the catalogue of Giacomo Puccini would have been an excellent addition to that list, not to mention being very well timed if things are about to take a turn for the worse once again.

For all its excellent content – and it was often very good indeed – the event did fall between stools in other ways too. As conductor Stuart Stratford conceded right at the start, it featured not a note from Madam Butterfly, which could only be a deficiency – any Puccini Collection without Butterfly is surely incomplete.

For most Tayside ticketholders the focus was surely chiefly on the soloists – sopranos Sinead Campbell-Wallace and Catriona Hewitson, tenors David Junghoon Kim and Fraser Simpson, and baritone Roland Wood – but really the concert belonged in the sequence of Sunday events in Glasgow and Edinburgh where Stratford has showcased the Orchestra of Scottish Opera, and his introductions to the music reflected that. It seems likely there was little rehearsal time in the performance venue, however, and initially the big voices of both Campbell-Wallace and Wood were swamped by the orchestra in the extracts from Manon Lescaut and Tosca, although a better balance was achieved after the interval.

That was never the case for Kim, however, whose Scottish Opera debut this was, and whose glorious voice encouraged hopes of a full role with the company soon. The fact that the programme ended with his solo Nessun Dorma – the only music from Turandot – suggests that Stratford is well aware of his quality, and also effectively ended any idea the audience might have had of requesting an encore.

In the second half the big offering was Act III of La Boheme, featuring everyone bar Simpson, whose sole contribution had been a cameo as Spoletta in a segment of Act II of Tosca. With instrumental offerings from Manon and La Villi featuring the orchestra – including an early spotlight on front desk string soloists – there was also a solo spot for Emerging Artist Catriona Hewitson, whose top notes as Magda in La rondine were a joy.

Something for everyone then, but also a somewhat jumbled bill of fare as a programme, built around the experience of Campbell-Wallace and Wood in Scottish Opera’s 2019 Tosca and having another high spot in their duet as Minnie and Jack Rance from La fanciulla del West. Taken as a grander version of the company’s popular Opera Highlights tours, it was a show that sent its customers home well-satisfied.

Keith Bruce

Picture by Fraser Band