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:
https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/silvano-usher-hall-edinburgh

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