Silvano: Scottish Opera @ Usher Hall

Image Contribution:
Paul Foster – Williams

Composer: Pietro Mascagni

Musical Director: Stuart Stratford

Adapted from Alphonse Karr’s novel, Pietro Mascagni composed Silvano as a two-act opera in 1895. The seafaring drama is, well, precisely that. At its core is a love-triangle, and we all know how those end. Set against a fishing town on the Adriatic coast, young fisherman Silvano’s passion for Matilde spurns his former friend Renzo with violent consequences.

So why Silvano? In short, the unfamiliarity. Scottish Opera’s attraction to forgotten relics of operatic history drags them to the surface. In true verismo style, Roxana Haines’ Silvano is not staged as a full opera, but instead conducted as a concert, which adds to the realism of the original libretto. We have nothing but our performers, the lyrics and accomplished musicians. This is all we require for greatness.  

There’s tremendous openness with staging Silvano this way. It places the orchestra – the lifeblood and beating heart of any opera – at the forefront, and allows the audience to appreciate the magnitude of skill on offer, to see the inner workings of the behemoth usually kept hidden.

Despite the title, the tour de force performance is found not with Silvano (Alexey Dolgov) but instead with Matilde, performed by soprano Emma Bell. Her control is awe-inspiring, particularly in her accomplished projection with marvellous diction. The emotion conveyed is raw, her desperation and disgrace evident. The softer vocals of Dolgov, and David Stout’s aggressive Renzo, contribute to the duality of the characters.  

A drawback occurs with Rosa, Silvano’s mother portrayed by Leah-Marian Jones – not vocally, but with how little her presence gives to the story. Silvano is one of Mascagni’s shorter pieces, meaning pacing suffers. Whilst the subtle score allows for imaginative water motifs, it feels less free-flowing and more huddled together narratively.

Mascagni’s lyrical construction though allows for flexibility in delivery, helping communicate the narrative. It’s no secret that opera isn’t the easiest art form to understand – language barrier aside, issues arise with the speed of delivery and lyricism. This isn’t an issue with Silvano, the mixture of aria and almost recitative spoken word offers accessibility.

Stuart Stratford’s conduction is, as expected, masterful. Silvano is an uncomplicated opera but also a gem deserving of a turn in the spotlight. Its minor flaws lie not with Scottish Opera, but with the original adapted composition. It is opera at its most unadulterated and transparent, pure but effective.

Review originally published for The Skinny:

What Girls are Made Of @ Traverse Theatre

Image Contribution:
Mihaela Bodlovic

Writer: Cora Bisset

Director: Orla O’LoughlinR

Can you smell the chippy? Visualise the iconic image of Patti Smith’s ‘looks could kill’ photo? What about the stale sweat of a grunge bands’ van? Well, after Scottish theatrical wonder Cora Bisset’s autobiographical gig What Girls Are Made Of you’ll have no issues doing so. The multi-layered performance sees Bisset’s history on a different stage, as the 17-year-old lead singer of Fife-born band Darlingheart. A Scottish band which shot for fame, only for its fingers to slip on the edges of glory.

Performed as a gig within a gig, Bisset starts off by offering a minimal background of information. Clippings of her early reviews found in the family home, but as much as this may be centred around Bisset, it rings of family, failure and growth – not only for her, but for all women.

In a manner which would make Patti Smith proud – no one is going to tell Bisset what to do, or what she is worth. Her performance is engaging, connecting immediately with the audience. Vocally, the pipes are still belting away with the deliverance of grunge edge with early Britpop tones. Aside from physical performance, the writing of What Girls Are Made Of is exceptional. Its subtlety is hidden amidst the emotional bricks hurled into the audience. Small touches, not even noticeable pelt like trucks when landed. Her sculpting of language, even in simple sentences, resonates audibly with the audience.

The plethora of encounters had by Bisset and her bandmates are caricatured by performers Susan Bear, Simon Donaldson and Harry Ward. On top of developing exaggerated personas of managers, famous musicians and old school chums, the trio performs as the live band. Talented – particularly Susan Bear, who some may recall as part of Glaswegian band Tuff Love. With Orla O’Loughlin’s energetic direction Ward’s characterisations from Cora’s mother to school bully is hysterical in dedication, yet emotionally developed.

Whilst a time capsule of Bisset’s experience with the band, What Girls Are Made Of serves the here and now. It crosses generations, despite its roots in the sweat-stained walls of grunge. Bisset has made her life accessible for the next generation. Those who have never (tragically) heard of Patti Smith, hell even those too young to recognise Radiohead are still communicated with. That mistakes, regardless of the pain, are inevitable. Mistakes shape our lives – arguably more so than success.

Just when the superficial surface of the production seems to be piling beyond the scope of biography, the pathos is sucker punched into the gut. It hits hard, harder than expected. Testimony to Bisset’s writing, as well as performance. This autobiography isn’t just the life of Cora Bisset as Cora Bisset – but as a woman. The shifting dreams she has had from the outlandish indie star to the wholesome and arguably simplistically human. Bisset spoke to a wide variety of people in the audience this evening, in particular, the women who have found themselves crying in the bathroom stalls, pounding their heads in musical bliss or standing defiantly against the crowds.

Success often pushes us forward; mistakes turn our heads back to where we came from. Cora Bisset utilises her past skills as an indie star to sculpt a form of gig – theatre to tell her story marvellously. What Girls Are Made Of is a sharing lesson of female resilience, coming to grips with failure and remembering our families. More though, as a piece of theatre it is performed adeptly with a myriad of impressive techniques through capable people. And from one Fifer to another, Bisset made me miss Kirkcaldy. A sentence never before put to print.

What Girls Are Made Of at the Traverse until April 20th. Continues on tour:

Review originally published for Reviews hub: