Two Great French Romantic Tragedies

Les Malheurs d’Orfee / Le Vin Herbe

Royal Conservatoire Scotland

March 4-11

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This being my very first live operatic experience, I was thrilled to be there, & all tangled up in an expectant mood. I took my seat to think about the night to come. The half size orchestra were warming up and the stage was set with easy-going props of small buildings purposed for trade, and a town set in the distance. We were to see two classics tonight – Les Malheurs d’Orfee & Le Vin Herbe the converging of the evenings two performances a special occasion for Opera aficionados. Though I discovered there is a question among such folks as to whether these are actually operas at all.

The first of these two stories of love took the form of that operatic phenomena that I was expecting & excited to see. Acting, music and singing saw the characters compliment the story in song, bringing the lovers to life every time; Orphee, played by Alexey Gusev, and Euridice, played by Anne-Marie Loveday. The success of the evening’s first performance came from the glowing confidence, delicate moments & sheer power of the 12 or so cast members who put their voices together creating a unison for the story. This was a stunning start to my burgeoning sense of operatic appreciation, with those concise 40 minutes dreamed up by Milhaud a perfect taster for the art, with the Thracian bard himself singing as if he was on the slopes of Parnassus.

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The stage was recast for the second performance of the evening; a much more opened space compared to the first. The orchestra now sat in a reworked way, and there were boxes across the stage in a semicircle with the addition of a singular pianist. The difference in stage-setting was also a difference in the style of writing between the two operas. As Le Vin Herbe rolled by in its many times bleak delivery, every dialogue seemed to be about death and was prolonged, so if there is a query as to whether this was an opera or not it was certainly inclusive in its makeup to become one. During the performance there were strong emotional responses from myself, and I presume for the other members of the audience. Some of the scenes I felt I could barely even live through, but to my delight there were long periods that I found held me both in gaze and in thought. The French libretto came deep and hard, but had a poetry and flow that was truly beautiful, in their inimitable concise shapes.

As the scenes were swapped about, positioning the boxes to suit the story, here was a great feeling that Frank Martin’s original vision was springing to life.  There was a bleakness to the story that comes from its tragic roots, as the wind blows through sails and dresses. There was a certain dreadfulness that was great as the title of the show indicated. Because of the voyage in forests and at sea, it reminded me of Greek literature of Virgil or Homer. As the story blends such idioms, the many levels of greatness in the work became simultaneously apparent; musical performance and stagecraft which were especially adhering. They offered us  a greatly dramatic vocal prose and softened down, without the comfort of peace or tranquility, to quietly whispering vocals of the pain of love. For me it was at times harder to understand the visual aspect that was inclusive of the singing. I understood the words fine, having read them on the prompter, but there was a sense of mystery to the act of observing the performers at hand. They seemed strange to me, as if they were there and not there at the same time, and when they held my gaze I felt slightly intimidated squirming in my seat. I guess I was feeling the true power of opera.

The only real reprieve during the performance from the tearful content was when they all sang together, blowing one’s mind as the wind assaults the sails; the great verbosity and conclusive acts of valour between  various components coming together for a real spectacle of heart wrenching tragedy. I think that all these details were born of deliberation, and every detail created with purpose. In the highs and lows of this retelling of an ancient theme and this 90-year old story, If you’re interest is piqued by an evening of bright, yet bleak performance, I would recommend that you see this show, as a most splendid & soul-stirring night out.

Reviewer:  Daniel Donnelly

Pelleas & Melisande

Glasgow Theatre Royal

March 1st 2017

Carolyn Sampson as Mélisande with Roland Wood as Golaud, in Pelléas and Mélisande. Scottish Opera 2017. Credit Richard Campbell..jpg

Carolyn Sampson and Andrei Bondarenko in Pelléas and Mélisande. Scottish Opera 2017. Credit Richard Campbell..jpgSome things, the best of things, take time. From inception, through evolution, to the final progression into folk-lore, there are very few classics that were tossed off in an hour or two. Claude Debussy’s Pelleas & Melisande is of the former sort, & the end product is quite simply divine. Debussy had seen the original play by Maurice Meterlinck in Paris, 1893, & had the first draft of the opera composed by 1895. But it would be another decade before he was happy with the piece, & we must all be grateful for his artistic care. Full of bassoons and cello-laden liturgicals, of its soundscapology Gavin Plumley told the Mumble how P&M was, ‘the product of a long and complex gestation, it reflects the many facets of Debussy’s musical apprenticeship, including his love of Wagner, his study of renaissance polyphony and his experiences of the exotic sounds of the east.’

Within a handful of years, P&M was being played out at the King’s Theatre, & 50 years later it would return as one of the two operas of the Scottish Operas inaugural season – Puccini’s Madame Butterfly being the other. Roll on another half century & more, Sir David  McVicar has returned Debussy’s only finished opera to the Scottish hills, & I can still hear the echoes two days on. There is an especial sensuality to the music of  P&M, while Debussy’s flirtation with the Symbolist movement runs rampant at all times, a mix which cast hovering night-birds over one’s imaginative realms.

Making a debut full of sincerity & warmth was BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Song Prize winner,  Andrei Bonarenko, while his beloved Melisande was played by Carolyn Sampson, back with SO after her success  as Anne Trulove in 2012’s Rake’s Progress. Her performance simply dripped liquid mercury as she drifted & glided about the stage as if she were a mermaid in the Aegean, & when she sang I felt more a sonorous siren than human being. Around there was no especial stand out singer, but instead a perfectly crafted combination accompanying voices including the dulcet chimes of wee Cedric Amamoo, making his operatic debut as Ynoid.

As Carmen, William Tell & Faust can all attest, he French language is simply made for opera, & Debussy is an excellent exponent, allowing a less formal roll of words which captures the effervescent vitality in the Gallic tongue. When to this we add Debussy accompanying musical touches, light & lucid brushstrokes of his mind, we are presented with a an audio banquet. What P&M also has incredible tip-toing tension. there is a constant nervous quality to the action, & P&M is indeed one of the most psychological operas I have ever witnessed.

Anne Mason and Carolyn Sampson in Pelléas and Mélisande. Scottish Opera 2017. Credit Richard Campbell..jpg

The stage set was a sensation, very Noseferatu, & when the curtains condensed down in little squares between scenes, I felt as if I was watching an early 20th century film. To give the set character,  Paule Constable waved her magical illuminative wand & one can see how she has won so many awards, such as 4 Olivier Awards, including her the recent ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.’

Although P&M is practically an Edwardian fairy tale, it is also a breathless, nuance-laden masterpiece – Debussy at his most exquisite best –  that one should see in Glasgow this weekend if at all possible.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

The Marriage of Figaro

Roxy Assembly
Feb 28 – Mar 4

Here they talk about nothing but Figaro. Nothing is played sung or whistled but Figaro. Certainly a great honour for me Amadeus Mozart


Thomas Henderson

Edinburgh is a talented place indeed, & to see last night a student production brimming with such unobjectionable talent maintains the city’s position as chief eyrie of the arts. Edinburgh Studio Opera has just commenced a five night run of Mozart’s delectably silly ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ directed by burgeoningly brilliant Thomas Henderson. The guy’s got style, & a sense of history, & by delving deeper into the roots of ‘Figaro’ eked out the improvisational traditions of the Italian commedia dell’arte, full of brash & funloving archetypes, as found in Pierre Baumarchais’ original play. Henderson studied opera in Florence, & like any British artist with their salt has incorporated the commedia elements in his own way; presenting the supporting performers as mime artists with free license to do dress up & pretty much do what they like; telling the Mumble; ‘This is the very essence of the commedia dell’arte: the opportunity to create enough distance from reality through farce & laughter to be able to critique ourselves & the society we live in.’




The one thing they did not do is sing, which is of course left to the professionals, for indeed the singers of ESO’s ‘Marriage of Figaro,’ despite their youth were all sublimely top-notch. Beside them the equally young orchestra  played with perfect fluidity & timing, which is absolutely essential for this chatty wee Opera. Apart from the outstanding overture, Mozart kind of tinkers with embellishments throughout most of the ‘Figaro’, leaving a kind of cinematic accompaniment to the libretto which would have astounded the original audiences. The female’s were especially effervescent, from Jessica Conway’s moodily entrancing Countess, through Sarah Gilford’s Susanna – whose singing was like coming across Princess Serendip singing by  a pool – to Jaimee Marshall’s Cherubino, whose superluscious voice literally warbles on the neck-nerves. Then, in the middle of it all stomping about in dramatic operatic fashion was Timothy Edmundson’s Figaro, who just got better & better as the performance went on, especially when he sang to Cherubino;

Here’s an end to your life as a rover
Here’s an end to the young casanova
It was fun for a while but now its over
We shall soon wipe the smile off your face

This one of the better sections of the libretto produced by Jeremy Sams. The English language & Mozart rarely mix. That was what I discovered as an operatic fledgeling when I saw an English adaption of ‘The Magic Flute’ in Richmond, West London in 1998, & my opinion was not altered last night. Saying that, the ESO have done wonderfully, & Mozart would have been proud, & at only £15 a ticket, they are giving the Edinburgh theater-goer a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the rare & luminous meteor strike that was, & still is, ‘The Marriage of Figaro.’

Reviewer : Damo Beeson Bullen


Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

La Traviata

Saint Cuthbert’s Church

25th August


An Operatic story of true love and its implications for a beautiful young courtesan who is destined to be with a gentleman  deemed too low for the courtesan’s class. A celebration of the power of true love and the tragedy of human mortality. The opera in question, La Traviata, is the source material for the contemporary classic film, Moulin Rouge. Performed by the Opera Bohemia Ensemble, conducted by music director, Alistair Diggs, & sung in Italian the music beautifully brings the story to life…  the stringed instruments especially, taking the lead, a performance that was worthy of center-stage itself.
Saint Cuthbert’s is a choice venue for an Opera as powerful as this one. The church stands at the West End of Princess Street Gardens, ornate and gothic, with perfect acoustics. Our seats were quite aptly in the heavens.With subtitles projected onto a screen above the altar. to the words that were sung it made for a totally inclusive experience. The stage in the altar of Saint Cuthbert’s made everything perfectly audible, from the lush orchestral interpretation to the amazing vocals of each of the cast. The detailed staging by Director Doughlas Nairne, transformed the stage set for each of the chapters of this Opera – by hand, the stage crew of Opera Bohemia meticulously created the different scenes during the short pauses in front of the audience. Unique and entertaining in itself.
Catriona Clark, performing the lead role of Violeta, effortlessly graced us with what would at first seem almost supernatural in her ability to move through the scales. Terminally ill with consumption, even lying down on her death-bed, her song is splendidly sung. Violeta’s true love Alfredo, performed by Thomas Kinch, skillfully demonstrated the affections and emotions of a man devoted and besotted. From the initial kiss and embrace, to the separation and longing. The final reconciliation moving the audience to tears as Violeta finally departed her mortal coil.
Aaron McAuley plays the part of Giorgio Germont, Violeta’s disaproving and controlling Father, doing his best to divert his sick daughters intentions to the suitor he would prefer.  Each of the cast gave a sterling performance in bringing this Italian Love Story to life. A true lesson into the impermanent.reality of love and life itself,  in a challenging and powerful presentation of perfect opera.
Reviewer : Mark Divine Calvert.

Scenes From The End

Greenside @ Nicolson Sq (13:55)
Until the 27th August
Today’s Mumble mission couldn’t have been more serendipitous, especially as I was escorted by my review companion of the day, the very beautiful Christine. There was even more beauty to come… the venue where we first encountered the one-woman opera, ‘Scenes From the End’ is an intimate affair and perfect for this masterpiece, whose.exploration of its subject matter that couldn’t be any more challenging. A study of the mortality of the Universe and Humanity, sung by the young soprano, Héloïse Werner. Simplicity is the nature of her performance as we were graced with the premier of this one Woman Opera. With a solitary chair and table as her only stage props. With choice quotations about the grieving process projected onto a black back drop.
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Both myself and Christine were transfixed from the word go. As the performance evolves, Ms Werner’s vocal expertese seduces her audience with sadness and passion at the same time. Even without the subject matter being known, her voice is enough to hold one in awe. Grief is a part of life that one really cannae get to grips with or understand until the experience is inevitably lived – and just like this solo show, it is one of the most personal of journeys. The performance triggered emotions in myself & my partner – we have both been grievers recently – and captivated as entirely at the same time. It didn’t take long for my own waterworks to start moving and tears were cascading down my face. (A good job that I wore waterproof mascarra)
The Quotations, voice and subtle acting combined to create a work of genuine, authentic power and moving beauty. This is a fringe show that one should make a day for, because to try and take anything else in for the 24 hours that follow would be impossible. Beautiful voices do make me cry, they always have done. But to see and hear the stages of grief presented in such a way is nothing less than remarkable. Such a sensitive subject embraced and transformed into something as gorgeous beautiful and as celebrated as creation it self.
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After the performance Christine and myself walked up over Salisbury Crags in silence, my own tears had dried, we were both in awe and had recognised a deeper healing of our individual journey through grief. Two Souls moved closer together as we brought our attention to the splendour of the moment. 5 Stars all round. Exceptional and Breathtaking. Dinnae forget to take some tissues.
Reviewer : Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
The Quotations
The Quotations
For nature, heartless, witless nature,
Will neither care nor know
A.E.Housman, from ‘Tell Me Not Here, It Needs Not Saying’ (1922)
The universe seems neither benign nor hostile,
merely indifferent to the concerns of such creatures as we.
Carl Sagan, from ‘Cosmos.10’ (2010)
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.
T.S.Eliot, from ‘The Hollow Men’ (1925)
Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.
William Shakespeare, from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (1599)
Time does not bring relief; You all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
Edna St Vincent Millay, from ‘Time Does Not Bring Relief’ (1830)
The agonies, the mad midnight moments, must, in the course of nature die away. But what will follow? Just this apathy, this dead flatness?
C.S.Lewis, from ‘A Grief Observed’ (1925)


Theatre Royal, Glasgow

5 / 7 / 9 April

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

14 / 16 April

Peter Wedd as the prince and Anne Sophie Duprels as Rusalka. Scottish Opera 2016. Credit James Glossop. (3).JPG

Imagine the relief & euphoria when the Bay City Rollers arrived in 1975, giving the teenybops a chance to enjoy rock & roll music apart from the serious-minded, unsmiling rockers of the post-glam mid-seventies. In the same way, there is something so joyously & eternaly childlike about Rusalka, the crowning glory of Antonín Leopold Dvořák’s search for a definitive expression of the  Czech ‘anima’ for opera. Indeed, me & the missus have been chatting about taking the girls to an opera, but at 6 & 8 we felt it was maybe too soon. However, despite Rusalka being dressed up in the sonic & aesthetic garb of cultural maturity, it is still a children’s tale, which taps into the child still in us all. A perfect choice, then, for our bambino’s first opera.

A fantastic fable, Rusalka is a mermaid who falls in love with a prince – the perfect fairytale fare. Its librettist was the Czech poet, Jaroslav Kvapil, who while staying in Denmark in 1899 began to re-read the tales of Hans Christian Andersson, including the Little Mermaid. Of his lyric fairytale he produced, Hannah Nepil writes, ‘it is no surprise that Kvapil wrote his libretto for the rebuilt national theatre. He made a point of describing Ruslaka as a quintessentially Czech work in the tradition of Karel Jaromir Erben, a writer loved for his macabre, folk-like ballads. Indeed, the rhythm of Kvapil’s language conjures up the Czech bards’s, as does one of Rusalka’s main charaters, Vodnik, on whom Erben based one of most gruesome poems.’

I cannot praise highly enough how excellent was the stagecraft. I loved the simple shapes that dominate the visualities – the oval pool, the straight-lined trees, the circular moon, were so simple they were practically hypnotic. To this were added the monstrously brilliant internationally renowned talents of Sir Williard White, whose dread-locked water-goblin, Vodnik, was a wonder. ‘Poor Rusalka, caught up in this dazzling world,’ he mourns wistfully as his unsullied daughter gets caught up in the sticky webbing of human relations. “Souls sin,” he tells her, “But souls love,” she replies.

Rusalka herself, played by Anne Sophie Duprels, was a voluptously beautiful lead, while her Prince, peter Wedden was unfortunately a little, well, wooden. the rest of the chorus, cast were top notch however, while choreographer Lucy Berge’s all-singing, all-dancing nest-haired dryads buzzed about the stage like graceful gazelle, while Clare Presland’s kitchen boy was a class act.Yes, I must admit, Ruslaka was a completely riveting watch.

This production is full of clever little touches, such as Rusalka’s bloody legs after she’d had her tail hacked off, & the stagecraft is the real star of the show. Its been over half a century since Rusalka paid her first & only visit to Scotland (1964), which is a bit of a travesty really. Perhaps there is a certain snobbery about Czech opera, admittedly it is not as lyrical as the Italian, or musically stirring as the German, but a s a mystical sonic spectacular Rusalka trancends them all. Amidst it all, as well, we may hear the magnificent aria, the ‘Song to the Moon,’ which is nothing short of divine.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen



Plot: 3 Lyricism: 3 Music: 3


Set: 5 Costume: 4.png Lighting: 4.png


Singing: 3 Acting: 4.png Choreography: 5

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Saturday 9th April

Woodside Hall,


Andrew McTaggart as Dr Caligari with Scottish Opera's Connect Company. Scottish Opera 2016. Credit Tim Morozzo.jpg

Scottish Opera is like a lovely silk glove, whose fingers reach into the very fabric of the national fibre, stroking our psyches into a fluffy state of mind, as from Dunvegan to Moffat we Scots go about our business in a much finer spirits for  a night at the opera. In the case of The Cabinet of Dr Cagliari, I found myself transported from the exterior high-rises of Glasgow’s West End down into the Woodside Halls & into a merry-go round of choral splendor, all played out on a sense-piquing chequerboard floor of jade & white

Scottish Opera’s ‘Connect Programme’ brings to & works with 14-21 year-olds, & boy do they do a good job. This year’s offering is a new opera, their third world premnier in 8 years, by librettist Allan Dunn & music by Karen Maclaver. Based on a silent film of 1920, The Cabinet of Dr Cagliari tells the story of a trip to an Edwardian fairground where a certain freakshow sonambulent, Cesare, awakes to announce that one of the visitors will die that night. His emergence from the cabinet, like a warbling Frankentsein’s monster, is the highlight of the whole piece, singing his heinous prophecy with a startling soprano. She did, of course, & the rest of the story unfolds from there, ending up in Gartloch asylum, from whence the plot begins to twist & turns like a slippery saragosan eel.

Daniel Keating Roberts as Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Scottish Opera 2016. Credit Tim Morozzo. (4).jpg

Director, conductor, boss-man Chris Gray should be proud of himself here. This senior lecturer at the university of Aberdeen is a widely sought trainer of young & amateur operas, choirs, companies & orchestras, & I can see why. At a terse seventy minutes, his Cabinet is a short, snappy splurge of operatic energy, though delivered by singers of varying quality. Some of these were unfortunately drowned  out by the orchestra, who, by the way, transcended their years with flawless pernicity. The star role, however, was Andrew McTaggart’s Dr Gallagher, & boy does he pack a good of lungs. Daniel Keating Roberts meanwhile, as Cesare, delivered a sweet soprano, while the excellent, cohesive chorus was a joy to watch.

Daniel Keating Roberts as Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Scottish Opera 2016. Credit Tim Morozzo. (3).jpg

The Cabinet is a entertaining & slightly traumatic piece, which utilises slick lighting & modern sound-effects to create a carnival of disbelief. Although at times I did feel I was still watching the silent movie version of the 1920s, with a pianist tinkling along, for the vocals, as I have said before, were too muffl’d to make out. Still, the Cabinet is a fun-loving, retro-oozing, dynamic one-act piece & with a few tweaks could go on to be a classic.

Libretto : 4.png Stagecraft : 4.png Performance: 3

Reviewer : Damo Bullen


Playhouse , Edinburgh

Sat 12th March 2016



This is opera that I haven’t experienced before. But then I hadn’t encountered Ellen Kent who juggles 6 Nation-wide operas at once. Opera and circus acts would not seem like a happy combination but this artistic and most definitely boundary challenging theatre does a have a place out-with Vegas for entertaining a broader audience.Think you’re not an opera fan? So did I.

The first act of Carmen is a myriad of vibrant contrasting colour as we are introduced to the cast and in particular Don Jose, the Spanish corporal (Vitalii Liskovetskyi ) Micaela, the peasant girl from his home town, ( Maria Tonina) and Carmen or Carmencita to her friends, the gypsy amoral temptress (Liza Kadelnik) – full of lust & desire that sets Don Jose’s pulse racing from the moment he sets eyes on her exiting the cigarette factory where she works.

Setting the scene outside the cigarette factory, Director Ellen Kent uses a rescue donkey plodding by – not what you would expect to see in central Edinburgh on a Saturday night but boy were the audience thrilled. Kent’s mother ran an animal rescue centre in Southern Spain in the swinging sixties. So, it seems, a non conventional upbringing has its rewards and according to well known artist and poster man for this production Ralph Steadman, Ellen is, ‘Operatic Impresario- Scene shifter Extraordinaire….Behind the scenes Ellen Kent strives to make her Productions acceptable and attractive to ALL in Society.’


Bizet’s last and arguably best work never gave him the fame and fortune he had strived for : within three months of its Paris premier Bizet died aged only 36. The addictive arias coupled with Kent’s 24 years of experience which keeps pushing her sense of theatrical spectacle to beyond its limits with her sheer joy of opulence and her skill at surprising the audience when they least expect it makes for great value entertainment. If I were to liken her to a film director I would chose Sally Potter of Orlando fame, not just for her use of the most sumptuous cloth of which there are clear links but because of what she brings to the table in terms of women’s power, sexuality and independence.

Of course Carmen is well known for her alluring resourcefulness through Prosper Merimee’s scandalous novel of 1845 where little was left to the imagination, but it is the the little touches that are added to modernise this old tale and really engage the audience gaining their empathy that makes Kent’s production so unique and exciting. Carmen’s character has a fluidity and believability that was less evident in Don Jose. His wonderful voice was undermined by stilted, almost robotic movements that were more mechanical than human.

Act 2 takes us to Lilias Pastia’s where you will delight in the busy bar, the costumes and the daft drunken behaviours all explained in English subtitles above which really help to make it inclusive to all. The final acts are where the action gets heated and I was transfixed by the bullfighter’s Escamillo ((Luri Gisca) – who was by far my favorite character – his incredibly powerful Baritone plees for Carmen’s affections had me rooting for him.

The inevitable tragedy that concludes this, the most entertaining of Carmen’s that I have witnessed, is not trivialised ( only Kent can do this) by the final crowd-thrilling prance with Caspian, the persil-white wonder horse from movies Robin Hood and Warhorse and his more than capable rider. If you want a night of passion, beautiful costume-changes, dramatic sets, bare-footed femme fatales, superb heart-wrenching as well as uplifting arias, all alongside some of the most passionate conducting – then this is the one to see.

Reviewer : Clare Crines



Plot: 4.png Lyricism: 4.png Music: 5


Set: 5 Costume: 5 Lighting: 4.png


Singing: 5 Acting: 2.png  Choreography: 3