Something odd is happening at Scottish Opera. Every time it gives a chamber-scale performance, it shows its mettle. As soon as it moves to the main stage, it seems lost. More’s the pity, because full-scale opera in Scotland is thin on the ground: between Der fliegende Holländer six months ago and Don Pasquale in three months’ time, Scottish Opera has just one “big” show – this uninspiring new Mozart production. The problem has to do with artistic leadership, or lack of it. It’s as if the company has lost the will to challenge or provoke.
Veteran baritone Thomas Allen returns to direct a work whose title role he has sung countless times. You would have thought that familiarity with different directors’ ideas might have sparked some of his own. What we get instead is an interpretative vacuum, with not a whiff of danger, sex, humour or intensity. The cast move like 18th-century clothes-horses, with outsize three-cornered hats that look bizarre. Simon Higlett’s set, a pictorial street scene with central fireplace and pulpit-like balconies, comes from the operatic museum. Apparently it represents Venice, not Seville. Maybe this is what Allen believes directing is about.
The dated ethos of the staging finds its musical counterpart in Speranza Scappucci’s stately tempi, worlds away from the period style in which Scottish Opera’s orchestra was until recently versed. But the mentoring which this up-and-coming Italian conductor received at the hands of Riccardo Muti and James Levine has an upside in her technical control and impeccable schooling of the singers. Every note has space to resonate – even when the wind instruments, unusually placed at the front of the pit, occasionally smother the voices.
The cast is a mixed bag. Jacques Imbrailo’s Giovanni clearly has potential, excelling in the Serenade, but he needs a proper director: the nature of his relationship with Peter Kalman’s bluff Leporello is never clear. Ed Lyon justifies both of Ottavio’s arias but Lisa Milne is miscast as Elvira and Anna Devin makes a pallid Zerlina. The best singing comes from Anita Watson’s Anna – a sincere and refined performance.