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Archive for March 14th, 2008

Five:15 Scottish Opera

Scottish Opera’s Five:15 project of commissioning five brand new pocket-sized 15 minute operas was a bold an innovative move.      It captured the imagination, and resulted in ‘sold out’ houses.   I really enjoy chamber opera, so I was looking forward to this immensely.    There was lots of pre publicity on the radio and in newspapers – the choice of well known names ensured this – clever move!         

 I had been looking out for the Five:15 tickets to come on sale and luckily managed to secure two of the last tickets for the Sunday afternoon Matinee in Oran Mor, as both evening performances were well sold out.     We were disappointed that we could not be there for the Saturday evening post-show discussion. 

I give Oran Mor absolutely ‘nil points’ for their booking system, which is managed for them, and resent the extortionate (in percentage terms) booking fee.    It was not possible to speak to a person.    At The Traverse in Edinburgh, we went to see Lyall Cresswell’s Good Angel, Bad Angel (dir – Ben Twist, music – Hebrides Ensemble) a while back with no booking fees – that is how it should be.    Booking fees should always be included in the ticket price.   By the way, Good Angel, Bad Angel was a wonderful gem that deserves repeating. 

And so to Five 15. I did wonder about reaching a new audience with this project.    The crowd we were in with on the Sunday in Glasgow were clearly seasoned opera goers, and while there were a few younger faces, there were lots of old ones.      Perhaps the evening shows at Five:15 had younger people, or people attending their first opera. 

Oran Mor as a venue – well, I loved the space, Alasdair Gray’s wonderful painted ceiling, the accoustic and stage design.    Sight lines were not always good, and the seats were seriously uncomfortable and crammed together.     I would have preferred The Tramway as a venue – it worked well for “The Turn of the Screw” a few years back:     the space could have been customised to suit Scottish Opera, and the audience could have been raked.    I realise that Oran Mor were sponsors for Five:15, so perhaps Scottish Opera were tied in to going there.     

The Operas:   I get to a fair share of new theatre writing in a year, and with new writing, you accept that some will work well, and some less so.    It is to be expected, and to an extent the music critics covering Five:15 did not understand this.    I think a lot did work well.    The singing from the company and playing from the orchestra were both first class.    For me, The King’s Conjecture had the edge dramatically.   It was a genuinely curious story about King James IV and a baby ‘experiment’, where Kate Valentine’s performance as deaf and dumb Grizel was astonishing and strangely moving, and left me wanting to know more.     Musically, Lyall Cresswell’s Perfect Woman was probably the best, but he has good operatic form already.    I would have liked to seen the orchestra onstage, as per the direction.     I also enjoyed The Queens of Govan – mainly because of Wajahat Khan’s sitar playing fusing with the orchestra – a meeting of India and Glasgow if you like.  

I did not expect to struggle with the most popular writers, but I am afraid I did.    Dream Angus and Gesualdo, although they were both well sung, never quite hit their mark, and suffered for being only 15 minutes long.      In a way, creating 15 minute operas is a little strange.    True chamber operas are usually longer than this, and allow development of story and character.     

But full marks for an innovative project.    It was fun to go to.   It is exciting to hear trained singers in a smaller space than usual.    I would certainly attend a similar show again . 

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