I respectfully disagree…

I respectfully disagree with the latest College of Bishops statement on Aberdeen and Orkney and I do so in two respects.

Firstly, there is no mention of a mediation process in Canon 53. If the College of Bishops wishes to use Canon 53 section 11 and subsequent sections, then they should follow the procedure laid down there and name the bishop who is hearing the dispute. The bishop in question should publish the terms under which they are going to determine the dispute and the date on which the hearing will take place. Canon 53 does not allow for the resolution of such disputes to be outsourced to other individuals or organisations. (Sections before section 11 do not apply to disputes within a diocese). The procedure outlined in Canon 53 Section 11 and the following sections is clearly a decision making process and not a process of mediation. (In any case, my personal view is that mediation processes are seldom appropriate in cases where bullying is alleged and where there are discrepancies of power between the parties involved).

Secondly, anyone making a claim of bullying against a serving bishop or any serving bishop wishing to make a claim that they have themselves been bullied by anyone subject to the Code of Canons, should be explicitly invited by the College to make a complaint under Canon 54.

Canon 54 can only be initiated by someone who is a member of the church. My view is that the College should make public appropriate arrangements for the bringing of a complaint by anyone who has subsequently left the church – specifically that the complaint would be passed to a (communicant) diocesan registrar or the clerk to the Episcopal Synod to be initiated formally.

Making vague references to the “Disciplinary Canonical process” of the church in a press release is unhelpful. Canon 54 is what the process is and the College of Bishops should long ago have insisted that people use it to bring allegations.

This is not the first statement by the College of Bishops with regard to these matters that has given me cause for concern. In a statement last December the College asserted that neither the Primus nor the College of Bishops had the power to suspend a bishop. The Code of Canons is very clear that bishops can be suspended and that only the Primus can do so and that this can only be upheld or not by the Episcopal Synod (which is the same body of people as the College of Bishops). The due processes governing how these things can come about are found in Canon 54 (Of Offences and Trials) and Canon 6 (Of Diocesan Bishops and their Jurisdiction and of Bishops’ Commissaries).

For the last few years I’ve been a member of a review group which has been carefully considering whether the disciplinary canonical processes of the church need to be updated. In time, I hope that they are. However, the canons that we currently have remain in force. Bishops require clergy to take oaths to uphold the Canons. Bishops themselves take oaths that they in turn will uphold the canons of the church.

I regard members of the College of Bishops as colleagues and friends and remain willing to discuss these matters with any of them or indeed with any member of the church. A number of the members of the College of Bishops have heard me say privately what I now assert here, that for the good of the whole church, the College of Bishops needs to return to the Canonical norms of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

I will not be discussing this matter with any journalists. The opinions expressed in this post are explicitly with regard to the College of Bishops and do not constitute a comment on anything that may or may not have happened in the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney, about which I have little knowledge.

The Code of Canons of the Scottish Episcopal Church can be found here: https://www.scotland.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/Code-of-Canons-2020.pdf

Don Giovanni – Scottish Opera

It is difficult to know why Scottish Opera have revived Thomas Allan’s production of Don Giovanni, which they first presented in 2013. It wasn’t exciting then and isn’t exciting now.

The curtain goes up to reveal a gauze that will remain in place to obscure the first scenes. Clouds can be seen scudding across it and eventually we get to glimpse Simon Higlett’s moody design.

The clouds had been going for quite a while though and were the perfect visual metaphor for the intonation problems that the strings were having during the overture. This lack of musical clarity continued throughout the first few scenes too. This was particularly noticeable during the initial trios. Herr Mozart doesn’t give much room for manoeuvre here – the mirroring of Leporello’s vocal part in the woodwind needs to be precise and crisp. In the event, it highlighted the fact that pit and stage were just a little out of kilter.

The trouble with obscuring the audience’s view is that the audience must then struggle to work out what it can see. A red light outside a building was much later revealed to be a votive candle sitting in front of a religious statue. Through the gauze though, it just looked like a red light, leading to the surprising possibility that the Commendatore was running a brothel. And why not, after all? If the whole production can be shifted to Venice for no apparent reason, why shouldn’t we begin outside a house of ill repute?

Vocally, the most interesting voices on the stage were the women. Hye-Youn Lee’s Donna Anna was clear and true, Kitty Whately’s Donna Elvira was sensational and Lea Shaw’s Zerlina was gorgeously sweet and pure. As one of Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists she more than held her own on the stage.

The essence of Don Giovanni is surely that delicious experience of falling in love with a man one knows to be trouble. Roland Wood never quite took us to that place. Why should we love him? Why should we hate him? Like much else in the production, this wasn’t entirely clear.

The audience’s tentative ripple of applause which followed Zachary Altman’s catalogue aria was perfectly judged. However, everyone knows this should be a showstopper.

The set changes remain noisy and clunky but there’s an attempt to cover up the noise with some thunder. The set is noisier than the thunder though and in the first half we get lightning without thunder and in the second, thunder without lightning -the perfect metaphor for the show.

Oddly, a couple of non-singing nuns with no faces keep turning up. They look marvellous and their headgear seems to suggest that they are Catherine Labouré sisters. What they were up to in Venice though is another puzzle.

Interestingly, Scottish Opera announced next year’s season on the same day as this performance and rather oddly proclaimed that this, the final main stage production of this year is also being regarded as the first production of next year’s season. It is almost as though the marketing department had a meeting to try to work out how to cover up how rare Scottish Opera’s main stage shows are becoming, particularly for those outside the Central Belt.

Things have moved on quite a lot since this production was first staged.

The #metoo movement is acknowledged in the programme but this must demand fresh reappraisals of the Don’s relationship with women on the stage.

The pandemic itself has taken such a toll on the performing arts that it is a genuine joy for people to be back in the theatre encountering full stage opera performances. However, just one of the shadows of the pandemic for Scottish Opera is that its audience and its potential audience has had a very great many opportunities over the last couple of years to encounter genuinely exciting opera productions from all over the world in digital form.

Some things work in this production. The moody lighting, the fabulous hats, the glorious frocks and the most beautiful music in the world are all there.

But something else isn’t.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review was first published by the award winning Scene Alba magazine.