English Touring Opera
Perth Concert Hall
16 May 2019
A spectacular opener for the Perth Festival of Arts, English Touring Opera’s colourful and action-filled opera places Verdi’s Shakespearean masterpiece in a civil war-torn Scotland that feels like a former Soviet-block Balkan state, complete with camouflage-attired mercenary militia, a brutalist bare-concrete Macbeth’s castle lit with industrial lighting and, of course, a deliciously tyrannical Leader and First Lady.
At the opening an almost comically grotesque chorus of witches make their appearance, in a cross between druids’ robes and Crimean nurses uniforms, tending to the injured of the bloody battlefield, from which the good king Duncan has emerged victorious. Of course, the crown will not sit for long on Duncan’s head, as the witches’ prophecies set in motion a cataclysm of events that will see Macbeth, emboldened by a power-hungry wife, first commit regicide, then seek to secure his power by assassinating his rival, the noble Banquo, sung by bass Amar Muchhala, and his sons, whom the witches’ chorus has augured will be king after Macbeth. It’s more bloody than an episode of Game of Thrones.
Grant Doyle sings a powerful Macbeth, faltering at first at the prospect of killing king Duncan, but stiffened in his resolve by the power-lusting Lady Macbeth, we watch as he slides headlong past guilt and right into despotism. Tanya Hurst as Lady Macbeth sings some of the finest arias of any of Verdi’s operas with sublime poise and clarity. She is a perfect choice for a Lady Macbeth, equally forceful and regal at first, and then steadily descending into guilty despair. “There’s a stain, and here’s another” she sings, frantically scrubbing at her hands in the great sleepwalking scene. “So much blood inside his veins. Who would have thought the old man had so much blood inside his veins?” There’s a solipsistic, faltering quality to Hurst’s Lady here that almost catches the observer pitying her, she who at the banquet hall merrily performed the drinking song “Come charge your glasses,” as if completely innocent, even ignorant, of the regicide she partook in only moments before.
English Touring Opera’s production preserves the musical colour and dramatic flow of one of Verdi’s greatest operas. Considering it was written in 1847, it is as action-packed and fast-paced as much modern drama. The orchestra, led by Gerry Cornelius, give an exuberant performance, especially rousing in the choruses of the witches and in the magnificent Finale, yet light and joyful in the drinking song, poignant and full of foreboding in Banquo’s aria “Black is the night.”
A magnificently entertaining Macbeth, full of colour, drama and beauty, and a very popular addition to what is becoming a rather worthy little annual festival in the Fair City.
Words: Mark Mackenzie
Images: Richard Hubert Smith
Theatre Royal Glasgow
Sunday 6th May
Opera is the ultimate musical experience, a combination of words, music, acting and staging, so why would you go to just hear an opera performed by an orchestra on stage with singers standing at the front? It is not just that tickets cost less because it is cheaper to put on, though that is of course true. The main reason is that for their Opera in Concert series Scottish Opera select operas not often performed because they lack the length and spectacle of the great opera repertoire. This means they are ideal for this form of presentation and with a great national opera company and orchestra and singers of international calibre, the absence of costumes, movement and scenery turns out to be less of a hindrance to enjoyment than you might think.
Scottish Opera conductor Stuart Stratford’s admirably concise plot summaries, good programme notes and subtitles translating the Russian into English made the stories of Rachmaninov’s two short operas Aleko and Francesca Da Rimini completely accessible. Added to which, the scintillating vocal performances and empathetic presentation of the principal singers made the ‘action’ and their characters believable, despite the restricted acting space.
Aleko was Rachmaninov’s Moscow Conservatoire Gold Medal winning graduation piece at the age of 19 in 1892. The story is not complicated: after an absence, Aleko returns to his band of gypsies, finds that his beloved Zemfira has betrayed him for a younger man, kills them both and then is exiled. An evocative orchestral prelude set the emotional scene and Rachmaninov’s writing for his principal singers gave each voice the dramatic impulse it needed to express the individual’s emotional journey.
Evez Abdulla’s heroic baritone, all flashing eyes and expressive gestures, gave us an Aleko both passionate and tragic, while the glorious bass of Alexei Tanovitski brought a back-to-earth reality to the role of Zemfira’s father. Zemfira, sung with astonishing beauty and power by Ekatarina Goncharova, captured both her cruelty in betraying Aleko and her ultimate powerlessness. Stirring choruses (male chorus on one side of the circle, female on the other – as if in stereo) and fine playing of Rachmaninov’s melodious and captivating music by Scottish Opera’s Orchestra, gave Aleko a deservedly fine performance.
In 1906 Rachmaninov himself conducted the first performance of his Francesca da Rimini at the Bolshoi theatre. In this concert performance the same singers took on new roles in a story based on an episode on Dante’s Inferno where, in the second circle of Hell, where the lustful are eternally punished, the poet meets lovers Paulo and Francesca and hears their story.
The unsettling harmonies in the orchestral prelude to Francesca da Rimini, with the chorus weaving wordless lines around eerie string sounds, created a sense of restless unease from the outset. Without summarising the plot, the tragedy and core meaning of the story can be summed up in the line, repeated in the libretto: “There is no greater torment than to remember a time of joy in a time of grief.” Once again, the exceptional voices of the four principals brought urgency to dangerous passion, graceful lyricism to love and somber tones to sorrow. It took little imagination to visualise the scenes in which we heard Evez Abdulla as the wronged and murderous husband of Francesca, nor the seduction of Francesca by his brother Paulo sung by Ekaterina Goncharova and Oleg Dolgov respectively, who were both making their debut with Scottish Opera. The audience were enthralled by the quality of what they heard, and we were privileged to be present at the very first performance in Scotland of this important work from Rachmaninov’s oeuvre.
This concert was the last in the current series, but the next series starting in October is already being advertised. It begins with two more Scottish premieres – of Puccini’s Edgar and of Silvano by Mascagni. With Benjamin Britten’s The Burning Fiery Furnace (at the Lammermuir Festival) to follow, I can think of few better musical ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Friday 30th March 2018
I love it when Ellen Kent comes to Scotland, & she loves it too, a marriage of romantic convenience, rather like the basic premise of Puccini’s long beloved Madama Butterfly. ‘Why Butterfly?’ I ask’d the vivaciously ebullient Kent. ‘Because it is the most popular opera in the world – a great story and music to die for,’ her reply. After the smash-hit success of Tosca & La Boheme – both Kent favorites – Puccini started musing upon a new opera to stand upon his burgeoning reputation. Verdi had died in 1901, a moment which crowned the ‘regent’ as chief paramour of Italian opera. Butterfly was the exotic result, balancing its floating, febrile wings on the Bashoesque libretto by Illica and Giacosa. ‘At the turn of the last century,’ Duncan Hadfield told the Mumble, ‘the lure of the exotic attracted a number of Western artists in all sorts of ways – the novels of Joseph Conrad, the paintings of Gauguin, Debussy’s pianistic attempt to replicate the timbres of the gamelan. As was his way, Puccini too spent his Butterfly period almost turning himself Japaneses, researching the country’s native folk melodies, attempting to capture the pattern of Japanese intonation, & exploring the sonorities offered by a a host of the percussion family’s ever-expanding numbers.’
The story is simple, a 15 year-old Japanese child-bride is abandoned by her diplomatic American husband not long after the wedding; whose return three years later with an American wife kicks of the inevitably tragic & magically operatic conclusion. As usual, Kent packs her production with international soloists, a highly-praised chorus and a full tight orchestra, with star billing going to the uniquely entrancing vocal abilities of celebrated soprano Maria HeeJung Kim, from the Korean National Opera House of Seoul. Her voice is sweet & siren-like, but great tribute must be paid to Zara Vardanean, who plays Butterfly’s maid Suzuki – their duets are phenomenal, allowing HeeJung Kim’s vocals to flow like melting honey.
The set is luscious, an authentic Japanese garden, whose ear-twinkling fountain-gush inspired one of my co-attendees to visit the toilet on more than one occasion. The First Act is a perfect paean to love, when the fabulously named Pinkerton (the surname is based on famous American detectives), bursts lungs with his Dovunque al mondo, in which he tells the American consul, Sharpless – played by the company’s best male singer, Chisnau-train’d Iurie Gisca – that the Yankee wanderer is not satisfied until he captures the flowers of every shore and the love of every beautiful woman. “I am marrying in the Japanese style: for 999 years, but with the right to cancel the marriage each month.’ A Spaniard (Giorgio Meladze) playing an American, singing Italian in Japan, via Edinburgh; one cannot get more Human than in these moments. First performed at La Scala in 1904, the Japan Puccini portrays is the one perched half-way between the opening up of the islands to the world in the 1860s, & the horrors of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Indeed, Butterfly is set in the very latter city.
The stage is set for tragedy, of course. Pinkerton admits as much in the first act when he sings of Butterfly being ‘small & delicate like a crystal,’ & an off-the-cuff mention of crushing, ‘her fragile wings.’ Meladze’s voice is clear, smooth & satisfying, like sitting in a bubble-bath drinking gin straight from the freezer – his stint singing with Jose Carreras at the Austrian Opera Festival in 2014 has clearly rubbed off. We know that tragedy is coming, & coming soon, but the sentiment of HeeJung Kim’s poignant ‘Un bel do vedremo’ was simmering still with the chirpy joys of the first act. Spurning the advances of local bigwig Yamadara, she stays stoically faithful to Pinkerton, becoming possessed with a faintness of mind & a total indifference to reality. Things then proceed rapidly dramatical, as one by one the audience’s hands became fixed over our gaping mouths, as our souls drained with the emotion of a superbly drawn out denoument.
You can still catch her Madama Butterfly this Spring as one of the three operas that form part of Kent’s annual touring tryptych. This year she is offering up La Traviata & Rigoletto – both by Verdi – & of course Puccini’s oriental masterpiece. With Madama Butterfly, Puccini’s mercurial genius attains quintessential harmony, & watching this opera is rather akin to sitting on a marble seat admiring & studying a fine Gainsborough portrait to the sounds of summer birds. Kent has done brilliantly with her materielle, I especially like the entrance of Vadym Chernihovskyi’s Bonze to a cymbal smash, while her gaggle of geishas spinning paper parasols in authentic costume has seer’d a succulent indelible vision into my heart, as has the beautiful singing of HeeJung Kim.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
Fri 20-Sat 21 April
Sun 22 April
Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone
Thu 26 April
New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham
Wed 02 May
Theatre Royal, Brighton
Sat 05 May
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Edinburgh Studio Opera are bringing a double bill to the Assembly Roxy; The Mumble managed to grab a wee chat with its director…
Where are you from and where are you living today?
I was born in Sussex and lived there until aged 16, but our family was always travelling North to Northumberland for every holiday we could. I fell in love with Northumberland at an early age and, apart from a 10 year period in London in the 90s, I have lived and worked from there ever since. We now live in Harbottle in Northumberland at the edge of Northumberland National Park.
Can you tell us about your theatrical training?
I trained at London University and then at the School of the Science of Acting in London. This college, headed by Sam Kogan (I was taught by him), was a wonderful and opening place to train both in Acting and Directing. I trained while working as a full time music teacher and musician. Sam’s approach was a controversial but fitted exactly with my feelings about theatre; Stanislavskian at its heart but twinned with a radical new approach to the actor and directors craft. I have to say though, I have always trusted my natural instincts above anything. That is, a natural curiosity and feeling for theatrical space, musicality and physicality.
When did you fall in love with opera?
My first operatic experiences were watching my uncle, the great English Bass baritone Thomas Hemsley, perform in London and Edinburgh. I quickly became familiar with his work, including his longed period of working with Benjamin Britten on operas such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Death in Venice. I quickly found a love for early opera and majored in Early Music at degree level. From there, I performed as a singer in various operas. It seems an absolutely natural thing for me to combine both my musical and theatrical training in this art form. My particular passion is to work with young people in opera. It seems to me the perfect art form as it combines all the arts and creates a future generation of performers and audiences for this most immersive creative experience.
What are your favorite operas to both watch & to direct?
The operas of Benjamin Britten, Amadeus Mozart and Claudio Monteverdi. I love all of the operas of Monteverdi but my particular favourites are Orfeo and Poppea. I love Peter Grimes, Noye’s Fludde, The Little Sweep, The Turn of the Screw, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Billy Budd. Le Nozze di Figaro is an absolutely favourite of mine too. Actually, I have directed Dido & Aeneas four times so that has to be up there too!
What do you like to do when you’re not being musical?
I am passionate about the natural environment, conservation and rewilding. When not in Northumberland, I like travelling to the Scottish islands and West coast. Also writing poetry in my spare time.
You are quite the nomad when it comes to directing for the stage, where does the wanderlust come from?
I will go anywhere where there is opera…! I love European and Russian theatre and am a passionate European.
What is your role in Edinburgh Studio Opera?
As a 50th anniversary special, ESO presenting a double bill production of Dido & Aeneas & Gianni Schicchi – why these two operas?
There is a fantastic comedy-tragedy contrast between these two operas which the audience will be fully immersed in. I would love the audience to feel a cathartic sense of tragedy at the end of Dido & Aeneas and to be shocked and challenged through the new narrative of the piece, especially the relationship between Dido and Belinda but also the predatory nature of Aeneas. In Gianni Schicchi, which many will not have seen before, especially never in this traverse staging, I hope the audience feels completely taken into the middle of the fast, furious and hilarious narrative of this absurd comic masterpiece.
What does the rest of 2018 hold in store for Robert Hersey?
I am working to set up an opera company in the North East. We hope to stage two one-act operas in Autumn 2018. As stage director for the Brundibar Festival, I am working towards staging the opera ‘Brundibar’ with a large cast of young people in early 2019.
ESO will be bringing their operatic double-bill to Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy
February 27th & 28th / March 2nd & 3rd
THE MUMBLE TEAM
Has headed to warmer climes with the Migrating Swallows, but we…
WILL BE BACK WITH THE BIRDS IN THE SPRING
After the huge success we had with our “La Boheme” and “Rigoletto” projects hCFlyde Opera are preparing their next production: Cosi fan tutte by W.A Mozart, in Italian (with English surtitles) and with double cast. This is a project to help young soloists to gain more stage experience and to learn a new role. Working with our amazing team and Orchestra of Clyde Opera Group will give singers the opportunity to improve their technique, work with the conductor in all rehearsals, then perform a full role in a well organised production, fully staged and with orchestra. This is the public’s opportunity to join us for 10 days and be part of a wonderful experience. CO’s previous performances of “La Boheme ” and “Rigoletto” were sold out- they are now convinced that the public will love this production too. Rehearsals and performances between the 19th-29th of July 2018 (GLASGOW, UK). Performances on the 28th and 29th of July 2018.
Participants must be available during the entire period of the project. This is a workshop for the training, specialization and advancement of professional opera singers. The workshop will be based on the study and practice of musical interpretation; dramatic interpretation; diction, Italian pronunciation and expression of the text; study of musical dramaturgy in the score, techniques of body movements, posture and acting; vocal ensemble and score study. The production will be double cast and participation will be based on auditions for specific roles. The program is in two parts: 1) musical rehearsals/staging and 2) fully staged opera production (with orchestra). Certain selected artists will be engaged in a concert arranged to take place in a nice little town near the sea. For anyone interested in applying, please include the following with your application: High definition photos, curriculum vitae and repertoire, as well as video-clip (YouTube), a scanned copy of your passport or equivalent identification document that is currently valid. Applicants outside Europe will have to submit the visa and / or residence permit / work permit where necessary. Note – all the applications must be sent to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Applicants who are accepted for an audition will receive notice of their acceptance by email or phone. Fees: All the participants accepted in this program will pay a participation fee. The fees are: Fiordiligi (soprano) £700, Dorabella (soprano) £700, Giglielmo (bass) £700, Ferrando (tenor) £700, Despina (soprano) £700, Don Alfonso (bass) £700. The fee includes the 11 days of the full program (masterclass, rehearsals with all our 3 pianists and orchestra, staging and singing lessons; also, lunch/every day is included + refreshments all day). If you would like to apply for 2 different roles please let us know in advance. The fee is paid in 3 instalments. If accepted into the program there is a deposit of £150 to be paid in maximum 30 days after acceptance (probably before the 25th of January 2018). The deposit is deducted from the fee. Accepted applicants will be responsible for their own flight and accommodation costs (accommodation could be provided if booked in advance for £475 -£550 / person) if you want to know more please get in touch. The organization could indicate available hotels and B & B options; information will be communicated to everyone interested by email.
Deadline for applications is 10th of December 2017 (interviews/auditions to happen before Christmas). If applying from abroad CO could organise Skype interviews or auditions. For more information email: email@example.com
Gilded Balloon Teviot
Until August 27th (15.15)
Now and then you see something so original and unexpected you will never see things the same way again. This is one such show. Right from even before the show starts when we are serenaded in our seats by the cheesy keyboard stylings of a song who’s only lyric is “Waiting for the show to start” you know you could be in for a treat. Then when an anemic, awkward, googly eyed creature with a Tin Tin haircut walks on to the stage and starts apologizing for the show before it’s even begun you know it could go either way. And, truth be told by the audience reaction, it went both. Either stunned into confused, uneasy silence, storming off in disgust or beaming and cackling with delight. Thankfully I fell into the later category and frankly see it as a damning condemnation of humanity to react any other way. What was not to love?
The music itself was a monumental achievement. Almost an hour of uninterrupted ebbing and flowing of Gershwin like melodies done through your little brothers shitty Yamaha PSR keyboard. Endless musical motifs, references and jokes. And jokes there were so many. Like the airplane films if there was one you didn’t find funny now there was bound to be one coming up that you’d find hilarious. Or as in much of this show’s humor, one you’d be clever enough to understand. And this was one of the beauties of the show. There was absolutely no attempt to dumb it down for a mass audience. And in these days of emojies, made in Chelsea and Donald Trump that is certainly a refreshing change. Lyrically he was outstanding. To be quite honest I don’t think I’ve ever heard wittier or better constructed comedy lyrics anywhere. One song was literally just all the expressions for being gay – but they all rhymed! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A gay, autistic bulimic man singing a comedy opera about his time spent in prison and mental breakdown may not be to everyone’s taste but it damn well should be. Outsiders are often the only real voice out there and that’s why everyone should listen to them but then, if they did, I guess they wouldn’t be outsiders anymore. That being said Robert White should be the biggest comedy star on TV today. He is like no-one else before and I expect since. He should be hosting the panel shows and participating as all the contestants. Step aside Jimmy Carr, your time is (thankfully) up. And you can’t even play a decent trumpet! So remember this name – Robert White. If there is any justice in the world the star of tomorrow. Just come and see the show I implore you. You may love it, you may hate it, but whatever happens you’ll remember it. And isn’t that the important thing? Like Lars Von Trier said – “Great art should be like a stone in the shoe” and Robert White is a fucking great Boulder.
Reviewer : Steven Vickers