Scottish opera

Bristol’s new concert hall is extremely fine

Bristol has a new concert hall, and it’s rather good. The transformation of the old Colston Hall into the Bristol Beacon has been reported as if it was simply a matter of upgrading and renaming. There were probably sound reasons for doing so, but in fact (and despite protests from the Twentieth Century Society) the postwar auditorium has been demolished outright and replaced with a wholly new orchestral hall designed on the best current principles: shoebox-shaped, with much use of wood and textured brick. Butterworth sears his melodies on to the eardrums. Isn’t it weird we still think of the Edwardians as inhibited? Acoustically, it’s extremely fine – not a

Alert, inventive and thoroughly entertaining: Scottish Opera’s Carmen reviewed

Scottish Opera’s new Carmen begins at the end. ‘Take me away: I have killed her,’ intones a voiceover and as the prelude swaggers out, José is in a police interrogation cell, where an investigator is attempting to piece together his story. In other words, it’s CSI: Seville. In converting Meilhac and Halévy’s libretto into a police procedural, director John Fulljames has created a Carmen that’s ideally gauged to a TV-literate audience: told in flashback, with any confusion swiftly cleared up by spoken dialogue that never feels clunky because interrogation is central to the genre. And unless you want to be surprised by the dénouement, it works a treat. Is that

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

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

Impressive interpretations marred by cuts: Scottish Ballet’s The Scandal at Mayerling reviewed

Sneer all you like at its prolixities and vulgarities but Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling remains a ballet that packs an exceptionally powerful emotional punch. Weathering a grapeshot of adverse criticism at its Covent Garden première in 1978, it has comfortably stood the test of time and entered the international pantheon. With a plushly throbbing score culled from Liszt’s oeuvre and an intriguing historical setting (the gratin of Habsbsurg Vienna in the 1880s), it’s a gift to large companies in search of full-length romantic drama beyond the rut of Swan Lake and Giselle. Because a production requires resources beyond the reach of medium-scale troupes, MacMillan’s widow Deborah has now sanctioned Scottish Ballet

A spirited attempt to fix a show that’s never really flown: Utopia, Limited reviewed

Utopia, Limited (1893) is a rare bird, and one that every Gilbert and Sullivan completist simply has to bag. The point of completism, of course, is to acquire an overview: if artists are truly original, everything they created should illuminate the whole. But what if a career tailed off, or ran to seed? It’s just going to be depressing, isn’t it? By the time they began their penultimate opera, Gilbert and Sullivan hadn’t collaborated for three years. In fact, they’d barely spoken. Goaded back into harness, they produced a comedy that really ought to have sparkled and yet somehow… well, put it this way: even the late D’Oyly Carte company

Spot-on in almost every way: Scottish Opera’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream reviewed

Scottish Opera’s new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream seems to open in midwinter. Snow falls, fairies hurl snowballs and the aurora borealis flickers and arcs across the darkened sky. Meanwhile Britten’s score swoons and sighs, its drowsy clouds of string tone wafting above gently snoring basses to create an atmosphere whose every glimmer evokes perfumed warmth. It should be a contradiction, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. Dominic Hill’s direction, Tom Piper’s designs and Lizzie Powell’s lighting (it’s hard to separate their contributions) create a visual world of opposites, illusions and inverted expectations; a setting for magic and misrule, which last time I checked is pretty

Very much NSFW: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet/Quatuor Danel at Wigmore Hall reviewed

‘Drammatico’, wrote César Franck over the opening of his Piano Quintet, and you’d better believe he meant it. The score bulges with clues: piu dolce; espressivo sempre; eventually (and steamiest of all if you’re even slightly attuned to the absinthe-dazed atmosphere of French Wagnerism) tenero ma con passione — ‘tenderly, but with passion’. It was too much for Camille Saint-Saëns, who played the piano in the world première in 1880. The gossip was that Saint-Saëns knew of Franck’s infatuation with the composer Augusta Holmès, and was repulsed by music that — to jealous ears — sounded like the one-handed diary of a 58-year-old lecher. As he reached the final page,

The finest Falstaff you’ll see this summer

Comedy’s a funny thing. No, seriously, the business of making people laugh is as fragile, as mercurial as cryptocurrency — a constellation of shifting risk factors, many beyond control, any of which can kill a joke deader than Dogecoin. Opera is already at a disadvantage. Timing — comedy’s accelerant of choice — is predetermined, dictated by the demands of unwieldy choruses and slow-moving sets, pinned down to the second by a score whose creator may be anything but a natural comedian. Just ask Verdi, whose early farce Un Giorno di Regno was such a comprehensive flop that he gave up the genre altogether for almost an entire career. But at