Scottish Opera: Pop-up 2023

Springburn Auditorium 

It is impossible not to warm to the grandiose title bestowed upon the corrugated metal road grit storage shed in Springburn Park that has now been kitted out with timber from salvaged pianos as a bijou venue northeast of Glasgow city centre. Where else to see the latest excursion of Scottish Opera’s Pop-up Operas than Springburn Auditorium? 

Beginning as a project for audiences in single figures who could be accommodated inside the trailer of an articulated lorry alongside the performers and the staging, the Pop-Up project was – like so much else – absolutely transformed by the challenge of the pandemic. The trailer became the stage, with the socially distanced audience seated outside in well-ventilated venue car parks and parkland. 

Rather than retreat to the earlier model, the Pop-ups are now touring to the sort of smaller venues that also see the company’s Opera Highlights packages of up-and-coming singers with a piano accompaniment. The next dates are in Stornoway, Dornoch and Strathpeffer, but this one retained something of the Covid-era model in the repurposed venue in a park where outdoor performances had happened previously. 

More importantly, the shape of the Pop-ups is as before: classic opera plots abridged by Storyteller Allan Dunn, the music arranged by Derek Clark for a duo of guitar and cello – Sasha Savaloni and Andrew Drummond Huggan at these performances – and sung by a soprano and a baritone, Jessica Leary and Andrew McTaggart. 

Beyond costumes and props, the only staging, once again, is an easel of storyboard illustrations, flipped over by Dunn – who also steps out of his narrator role and into non-singing roles opposite the duo as required. Those pictures are by Essi Kimpimaki on this excursion and are very lovely as well as being narratively useful. 

That’s particularly true of the half-hour version of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, the origins of the work in Pushkin’s short tale made more evident in that storyboard. McTaggart, and especially Leary, who delivers a beautiful version of the Letter Song, have less doubling of roles to do in this one, and the close focus on Tatyana and Onegin can surely only help sell the opera to the new audience the Pop-ups aim to entice. “What happens in the other 100 minutes it usually takes to perform?” would be a fair question. 

By contrast, there is much squeezing of a quart into a pint pot to bring Strauss’s Die Fledermaus to a happier conclusion in rather more than half an hour. Dunn manages to negotiate his way through the machinations of its convoluted plot with considerable skill, channelling the alliterative multisyllabic introductions of Leonard Sachs on television’s The Good Old Days and the saucy double entendres of Kenneth Williams on radio’s Round the Horne along with way. Leary and McTaggart vary their costuming to portray all the characters, and – as in the Tchaikovsky – deliver the arias with no compromises. These condensed versions may be brief, but the glory of the melodies in both are sacrosanct and undiminished. 

In its own way, that goes for the instrumental accompaniment as well. Clark’s scoring preserves all the crucial figures in the orchestration and both players have to work their socks off for the duration. The music remains at the heart of the Pop-ups and is performed with passion and commitment. 

People who love opera have made these short versions of two classics for everyone, whether they are also seasoned fans or are tipping a toe into opera for the first time.  

Keith Bruce 

Picture by Kirsty Anderson of Andrew McTaggart and Jessica Leary in A Little Bit of . . . Eugene Onegin.