Review – Don Pasquale – Scottish Opera

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review also appears at Opera Britannia

Obviously intended be another populist crowd-pleaser, Scottish Opera’s new production of Don Pasquale is visually gorgeous but sabotaged from the pit by conducting from Francesco Corti that is bold, daring and utterly insensitive to the fact that anyone is singing.

Things began well. On entering the theatre, the curtain was dominated by a large projected image apparently advertising the production. The first few bars of music came at a cracking pace and then a pause slightly more pregnant than usual as the digital image was revealed to be the first page of a digital book. As the overture continued, an unseen hand then started to scroll through the pages which turned out to be the pages of an Italian photo-story featuring the characters we were about to be introduced to. They gave the back-story to the production which was, and one is aware in the telling of it that there is a lot to swallow here, that the old bachelor Don Pasquale loves cats but is sadly allergic to them. Upon this artifice, which is unsupported by the libretto, hung quite a lot of the production. We saw in the unfolding comic-book story that Don Pasquale was having tests from a doctor to determine what it was that was causing him to be ill and that it turned out to be cats. Cats had to be eliminated from his life and these were then replaced by lots of artificial cats. The digital book was done with some panache though it is difficult to affirm the decision to have the text of the speech bubbles in Italian with no translation.

When the overture was finally over and the narrative thus established, the curtain finally went up to reveal André Barbe’s brilliant set design. Again there was something of the comic book about the set which took us to Pensione Pasquale – a small lodging house in Rome, sometime on the cusp of the swinging sixties. Vibrant colours dominated the stage and a magnificent painted backdrop showed the local buildings towering over the Pensione.  Draped between the rooms that we could see and the sky above were yards of washing all out to dry in the sun on clothes lines.

And thus we found Don Pasquale consulting Dr Malatesta about his allergies and apparently being assured that there could be no cats for him. Around the old man himself were stuffed cats, china cats and plastic cats. Cats indeed, of every kind.  All of this cat business was really leading to the best joke of the show – a brilliant visual gag at the final curtain which it would be unkind for the reviewer to reveal to anyone who might see the show.  However, reflecting on it after seeing the show, one is struck by how odd this feline premise was. [Read more…]

The Sloans Project – Opera Review

Rating: ★★★★☆

This review also appears on Opera Britannia’s website.

The Sloans Project is an exciting new opera that has been around for a couple of years but is revived for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. This performance was one of two being given in its original setting – the Glasgow public house from which its stories derive. It now moves over to Edinburgh in a brave attempt to relocate a piece which has hitherto been regarded as absolutely site specific and tied to its origins. The Sloans Project is an innovative and gripping piece and deserves to succeed in any setting. All parts were played by a quartet of singers accompanied by half a dozen musicians.

We begin, of course, in the bar. Arriving in Sloans on a Wednesday afternoon, it was not immediately obvious that there was any performance scheduled at all. It was simply an old bar room filled with locals drinking. A young chap (in fact the composer, Gareth Williams) sat at the bar with a glass of water and a musical score in front of him, but that was the only clue that a performance was in the offing at all. Suddenly though, he dipped his finger in the water and started circling the glass, making it sing. As he did so, other previously unnoticed members of the company dotted around the bar began to do the same. In moments the whole bar seemed to be singing its own ringing, gathering chord. A woman then appeared through the door and began to sing. It was an electric beginning to a piece which was full of drama.

The Project is not a continuous narrative. Rather, it is a series of five scenes drawn from stories connected with the bar. Three characters re-occur from the first scene in the last, bringing some kind of conclusion to proceedings and the audience is guided from room to room, up and downstairs to a different location for each scene by a Landlady who turns out to be something of a narrator figure. The scenes are drawn from different periods in the history of Sloans. [Read more…]