Scottish Opera: Opera Highlights

Linlithgow Academy

It would be a challenging assignment to compile a programme for one of Scottish Opera’s regular four-singers-and-a-piano tours that did not favour the women with the more dramatic music. Such is the nature of the artform in repertoire ancient and modern.

Soprano Zoe Drummond, one the company’s current cohort of Emerging Artists, certainly had the best of it here, with solos from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden and Gounod’s Mireille in the first half of the programme. Mezzo Shakira Tsindos had her share of the spotlight too, but her voice seemed less suited to Handel and Gluck than it was to Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia later on, although her Bertarido blended well with Drummond’s Rodelinda in their duet.

The two men in the line-up, baritone Christopher Nairne – like Tsindos making his Scottish Opera debut – and tenor Osian Wyn Bowen, another Emerging Artist, did have the crowd-pleaser before the interval, however, in their duet from Les pecheurs de perles.

The established formula of these programmes was intact here, Scottish Opera’s Head of Music Derek Clark mixing rarities with favourites and a brand new work (Told by an Idiot by Toby Hession) opening a second half which then tended towards lighter music nearer the end. Director Emma Jenkins, who also contributed the text to Hession’s composition, resisted any linking storyline, working instead with scenic devices by designer Janis Hart.

These were diverse, and variously successful. If a theme of “love” linked the music – offering plenty of scope – 1970s (rather than 60s) costuming was not an immediately obvious choice. The subject matter of each scene was captioned on a blackboard and easel stage left, as in the music hall variety shows – and television’s The Good Old Days – but the titling was in the style of episodes of the rather more recent TV hit, Friends.

That blackboard device was continued in Hart’s modular staging, which the cast was required to decorate with chalk drawings, with varying degrees of accomplishment. Occasionally effective, it was more often distracting from the performance in front.

The period elements did gel for Hession’s “Scene for four voices and piano”, which was a clever bite-sized encapsulation of some of the ingredients of Macbeth in the style of a television drama. Nairne was Mac, Drummond his wife Beth, Wyn Bowen his boss Duncan arriving for dinner, and Tsindos the witch Hecate, whom only Mac can see. As clever musically as it was conceptually, it was one of the most successful of these commissions, and fitted better into the programme than many of its predecessors.

It was also one of the few occasions on which all four of the cast appeared together, which was a shame. Elsewhere they combined well in duos and trios and each had successful solo moments, even if Tsindos was hampered in her dramatic roles by being dressed rather like a children’s TV presenter.

Pianist and musical director Kristina Yorgova – also an Emerging Artist – favoured the music hall side of the staging in her costume of silver dress and bowler and she won Linlithgow’s most enthusiastic ovation for her expert accompaniment, and occasional conducting, of the vastly varied programme.

Keith Bruce

On Tour across Scotland to October 29