Richard Bratby

An electrifying, immersive thrill: Scottish Opera’s Candide reviewed

Plus: at Opera Holland Park a trim, affectionate staging of HMS Pinafore with an athletic and well-drilled cast

Susan Bullock channelling Joan Rivers as the Old Lady in Scottish Opera's Candide. Image: James Glossop

The first part of the adventure was getting there. Out of the subway, past the tower blocks and under the motorway flyover. A quick glance at Google Maps and into a patch of litter-blown scrub. Someone bustles up alongside me: ‘Are you looking for the opera?’ I am, yes: and my guess is that the cluster of clipboard-y types in high-vis tabards next to that warehouse probably marks the entrance. We’re waved in: ‘Big Cock’ proclaims a graffiti-covered wall. There’s a stack of shipping containers, an improvised bar (cold beer and Scotch pies) and a big tented space filled with drifting crowds and that apprehensive, slightly unsettled murmur you always hear when – unusually for an opera audience – no one really knows what they’ve let themselves in for.

A classic Edinburgh Festival experience, you might think: except that Scottish Opera’s promenade production of Bernstein’s Candide is taking place in Glasgow, while the mighty International Festival – barring a visit from Garsington’s (admittedly superb) Rusalka – seems to have pretty much thrown in its hand this year, at least as regards main-stage opera. Certainly, nothing at Edinburgh looked half as intriguing as this open-air staging by Jack Furness: by a curious coincidence, the director of that stunning Rusalka here producing Scotland’s operatic event of the summer on the opposite side of the country.

The image of the night would have to be Susan Bullock dancing a one-woman tango on a picnic table

Whatever: Candide pulled you in and tipped you out, three hours later, footsore but with all senses fizzing. This site-specific way of doing opera was pioneered by the late Graham Vick’s Birmingham Opera Company. For Vick, it was an end in itself, and the atmosphere of ferocious, almost cult-like commitment that made his Birmingham productions feel so transgressive was much less noticeable in Glasgow.

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