Take Andy Warhol’s soup cans, think of an army of Magritte’s headless men marching towards you, add Salvador Dali’s giant telephone with a lobster on top, a stained urinal as a public fountain (Marcel Duchamp perhaps) and roll these together with a boisterous fairy-tale about a prince who won’t laugh, and you have something of the flavour of an extraordinary night out at the opera.
Following on from Eugene Onegin last year, Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges is the latest collaboration between RSAMD, the Rostov on Don conservatoire in Russia, and Scottish Opera. Here, students from various courses at RSAMD get together with their Russian colleagues to create and perform a large opera in a big theatre with a professional orchestra. It is a huge undertaking: 1 conductor, 15 principal singers, 33 Chorus, 75 in the orchestra (including 26 RSAMD), 9 off-stage band, with their own conductor. And that is just the performers – there are at least 50 others credited backstage, or involved with the production. And that is before adding in the staff from RSAMD who tutored the student musicians, singers, costume makers, set constructors and so on. Good value for £20.
Lee Blakeley directed the large forces on stage, with considerable attention to detail. (He also directed Scottish Opera’s A night at the Chinese Opera) There was simply never a dull moment, from the Prologue with the well drilled chorus divided into different audience types who wanted tragedy, comedy or romantic drama out of the evening. The chorus had a busy time of it, playing an army of doctors, men with no heads (baddies), and lots more, including the mad rag-bag procession of assorted people in the famous March. I liked the painting references throughout – the duel between Fata Morgana and the Magician was a painting competition, and later the Magician spattered the set with his paintbrush before throwing the whole can at the wall. Portraits revolved to reveal sinister Magritte-type bowler-hatted men. The design by Emma Wee was visually exciting, and took us into dark places, for this was a dark tale of good vs evil.
The principals all sung well, with some very fine voices. It is unfair to single any of them out, but suffice it to say that they were ably led (at this performance) by Jung Soo Yun as the hypochondriac Prince, and Reuben Lai as the off-beat party fixer Truffaldino. They made a stunning double act as they literally got blown off on their orangy quest by the demon Farfarello, sung by Andy Warhol lookey-likeyMichel de Souza.
In the pit, Timothy Dean conducted the large Scottish Opera orchestra, which was sprinkled through with top players from RSAMD. It must have been tempting to really let rip at times, but this was a measured performance, allowing the young voices to be heard. It was thrilling music all the same.
All in all, this was such a fun evening. Two more performances, both in Edinburgh on 28th and 30th January. Opera fans should not miss this, but this Love of Three Oranges is very suitable for those who think they might not like opera.
I persuaded very keen theatregoers, but opera total newcomers Waldorf and Statler over at View from the Stalls to give this production a try, and am pleased to say that they pretty much enjoyed the experience, and would give RSAMD opera a try again in the future.