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Scotland’s national opera company has employed a Scottish director to stage an opera set in Scotland. Tartan insularity? No, pragmatism and sound artistic logic. John Doyle is better known outside his country than in Glasgow or Edinburgh, thanks to long-standing theatre work in London’s West End and on Broadway. Until recently he had never worked in opera. Where better to start than home?
By employing Scottish artists of international repute, Scottish Opera is not lowering standards or swimming with the nationalist tide. It is strengthening its artistic roots and identifying with its home constituency. Scottish artists and their public have more interest in the survival of Scottish Opera than anyone – and judging by this Lucia and next season’s plans, the tide in the beleaguered company’s fortunes could be turning.
Donizetti’s opera, based on Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, is a tough nut for any company, but Scottish Opera has gone about it the right way. Doyle and his designers, Liz Ascroft (set and costumes) and Wayne Dowdeswell (lighting), provide a simple, highly atmospheric setting that focuses on characterisation and music. There’s no tartan, nor anything strikingly original, but nothing silly either. The chorus is well organised, the principals sensibly profiled.
It is a show that would look well in a bigger theatre such as the Metropolitan Opera, where Doyle is to produce Peter Grimes next year. It reminded me of Scottish Opera’s unpretentious early days, when musical values were paramount.
And any company with Julian Smith on their books is on to a winner. Smith, a mainstay of Welsh National Opera, knows the style and more importantly, understands its theatrical rationale. The orchestral playing is confidently schooled, with perfect pizzicatos and a the sort of balance that allows every part to be heard. I marvelled afresh at Donizetti’s melodic inventiveness.
The cast is good rather than outstanding. Sally Silver’s Lucia has the notes and the coloratura but misses the star quality Lucia needs. Bülent Bezdüz’s handsome, stylish Edgardo is an asset but might sound lightweight on a larger stage. Alan Fairs, Andrew Schroeder and Sarah Pring provide solid support.
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