Saturday 9th April
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.
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.
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 : Stagecraft : Performance:
Reviewer : Damo Bullen