Last opera in the academic year at RSAMD in Glasgow was Hansel and Gretel.   What a magical evening!  Read my review on Bachtrack.

Hansel and Gretel RSAMD Glasgow

Gretel and Hansel - photo by RSAMD - copyright


CATS Awards

The CATS shortlist is now out.

Lots of good things to choose from, and of the entries I have seen, I agree with the critics by and large.   Encouraging to see the Royal Lyceum back in the running, joining CATS stalwarts Dundee Rep and The Traverse.

Particularly outstanding was Roadkill, which was different, difficult and challenging and really deserves its several nominations.   Also multi-nominated was Sweeny Todd from Dundee Rep, which completely justifies all of its entries – Sondheim is difficult to pull off, and this production was particularly special.

I do have a problem with the several nominations for Age of Arousal from Stellar Quines, which although stylish and well acted, was let down by its writing and direction.   Good, but certainly not special enough to be award winning.

I had a similar problem with The Unconquered from the same outfit, which also won awards a few years back.   So perhaps it is just me then.

But good luck to all shortlisted entries, including Age of Arousal.  It has been a rich year for Scottish Theatre, and several shows must have good entries, but were pipped to the post.

The Okavango Macbeth

Okavango Macbeth Beth Mckay Andrew McTaggart credit Marc Marnie

Beth Mackay and Andrew McTaggart in The Okavango Macbeth - photo Marc Marnie

UK premiere of Alexander McCall Smith’s opera:  Macbeth as told by baboons. 

Read about it on Bachtrack.

 Anthony Marwood was guest director for the final set of concerts in the 2010/11 series from the Scottish Ensemble. 

Review appears on Bachtrack.

Intermezzo is an opera based on the real life happenings in the relationship between Richard Strauss and his wife Pauline, characterised on stage as Robert and Christine Storch.     

Roland Wood, Anita Bader in Intermezzo

Roland Wood, Anita Bader in Intermezzo Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Maestro Robert takes on a long conducting stint in Vienna, leaving Christine in her country house with their eight year old son Franzl, and a retinue of staff.    On a tobogganing trip, Christine literally crashes into fellow  aristocrat Baron Lummer, and they strike up a friendship ……… until he asks her for money.   Christine opens a letter addressed to Robert, and finds a note from a Mieze Maier asking him to meet her at the opera, and afterwards in the bar.  Highly strung Christine  immediately considers divorce, but the letter turns out to have been sent to Strauss in error, as Mieze mistook his name for Kapellmeister Stroh.  Robert returns home to fix things and domestic harmony is restored eventually.  

This little performed opera is arranged in two acts, each of several scenes with interlude music continuing through the changes.  It is a massive challenge for a designer who has to not only depict rooms in the Storch’s country house, but also an Inn, Lodgings, The Prater in Vienna, a ski slope, and much more.   Designer Manfred Kaderk cleverly used Klimt’s The Kiss as a theme, with the Storches’ house decorated with gloriously over the top Klimt-kitsch wallpaper.  At the start of the opera, in a nice touch, the two figures in The Kiss separated, and were reunited only at the very end.   

The music is a wonderful sound scape of rich, passionate, and dissonant notes, and the Scottish Opera orchestra (complete with harmonium) under Francesco Corti tackled this difficult score with aplomb.   The intermezzos were particularly engrossing, adding so much to the work, and giving the whole a very cinematic feel.  

Roland Wood was an excellently robust Robert Storch, whether battling with Christine to get his belongings packed up for Vienna, playing cards with his friends the Councillors of Commerce and Justice, Kammersanger, Kapellmeister (all in fine voice), or returning home to sort out the domestic mess.    Bavarian Anita Bader did well with the huge role of Christine, but lacked the power needed to get across Corti’s forces going at full tilt in the pit.   It was a pity, because the much anticipated big finish was  somewhat underpowered.   Scot, Nicky Spence sang the smarmy-but-broke  Baron Lummer with conviction.

There were some nice touches from director Wolfgang Quetes:  the clear hierarchy of staff in the Storch household;  the card game scene which erupted into ribald laughter and drink after Robert left the room after being teased about his difficult wife;  Christine throwing a large bunch of red flowers onto the stage, yet within minutes, sitting doucely on her husband’s knee and feeding him toast.

Christine Storch is portrayed as a really difficult woman who is horrible to her staff.    Family joke or not, I was left wondering what the real Pauline Strauss made of this opera when it was performed in 1924.

For seasoned opera goers, the phrase ‘Community Opera’ can conjure up all sorts of feelings – not all good.    These projects can sometimes be well-meaning,  worthy and just a bit dull unless you are taking part, or a parent of a young performer.

So it is a delight to report that the double bill of short community operas at the Glasgow Citizens was none of these things.   It was an absolutely  sparkling evening, as evidenced by the electric buzz in the foyer afterwards.

On the Rim of the World

On the Rim of the World - photo Citizens

On The Rim of the World by Orlando Gough was first on the bill, co-commissioned by all the main UK opera companies who have been performing it ‘in their own way’ ever since.    Glasgow’s turn drew on the well established Citizens Community Theatre together with 30 children from schools across the Gorbals also picked to take part.     Using the professional resources of the Citizens and Scottish Opera, and a visit from the Composer himself, this piece about children too awake for bedtime was worked up into a very special show.

With upbeat and singable music, we were taken on a journey into sleep with nightmare giant chickens, and a circus.    In a nice touch, the Dads were left at home coping with babies and the  lively children while the Mums got a night out.    

The stars of this show were the 50 strong ensemble who acted, danced and sang their hearts out.    With an able band in the pit, which included a saxophone and an accordion, there was so much to like in this wonderfully imaginative show.

Dr Ferret's Bad Medicine Roadshow

Dr Ferret's Bad Medicine Roadshow - photo Citizens.

The second opera, Dr Ferret’s Bad Medicine Show written by Stephen Deazley was commissioned by Scottish Opera to showcase the talents of  the young group of under 22s they have been quietly working with for the past few years.      Based on Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, we were told the much-loved stories  about Henry King and the string, Jim and the lion, George’s dangerous balloon and Matilda’s lies.   

The music was light and catchy with lots of singing for everyone.   Like the first piece, singing, and stagecraft were spot on.      Scottish Opera’s orchestra played the intriguing score with relish.   There was a massive array of percussion set out along the side wall, and watching Jay Allen get round it all was a show in itself.    This charming opera deserves to be performed again for a wider audience.

Most importantly, apart from being real fun for performers and listeners, this demonstrated how two national professional companies can work together, and can involve performers from the wider community to produce something very special.      Coming soon after Scottish Opera’s collaboration with RSAMD on The Cunning Little Vixen, this can only be good for future arts in Scotland.

Cunning Little VixenThe teaming up of RSAMD’s best students with Scottish Opera has now become a much-anticipated annual event:     it is a showcase of how a national opera company can work together with a national music conservatoire to provide immensely valuable experience, and a chance for the youngsters to work right alongside the professionals on stage, off stage and in the pit.

This year, the combined forces chose to revive David Poutney’s much-loved 1980’s WNO/SO joint production of Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, not seen in Glasgow since 1997.    Always a charming piece, Poutney’s production was a landmark of its time, and the undulating forest design by Maria Bjornson adds much to the magic of the musical soundscape.

This year, for the first time, Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists were added into the mix, as were pupils from Scottish Ballet.    To get the most value for the exercise, the main singing parts were double-cast, with a performance apiece in Glasgow and Edinburgh.   

The opera is on one level about the forest and its animals, and we follow the story of Vixen Sharp-Ears, taken back to the Forester’s home as a pet cub, but who quickly shows her true character by killing his hens and escaping.     She meets a mate, and they have playful cubs, but though she is shot and killed by the Poacher, it is clear that life continues in the forest year on year.  

And year on year, this opera is about old age, and loves which might have been:    the Schoolmaster misses his chance to marry Ternyka as his friend the Poacher beats him to it, and the Forester sings about old age and the shot vixen.   In the final moments, a frog jumps onto his lap, and reminds him that he is the grandson of the frog who did the same thing when he first met Sharp-Ears.

Janacek was 70 years old when wrote the Cunning Little Vixen and deep  in unrequited love with the much younger (and married) Kamila Stösslová, making the Forester’s final song all the more poignant.

Seen on its second night in Glasgow, the night belonged to Michel de Souza, Scottish Opera Emerging Artist who sang a wonderful Forester, and he was well matched by opera student Natalie Montakhab’s vivacious vixen who put in a simply  thrilling performance.      But that is not to detract from the large cast of singers and dancers whose enthusiasm  made this a memorable evening.

And finally, a special mention to Emily Chappell for the charming programme illustrations.