Scottish Opera: Highlights – Byre Theatre

Directed by Jeanne Pansard-Besson

Music Director & Piano by Fiona MacSherry

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Stripped back, raw and accessible, Scottish Opera returns with a Highlights season after a two-year gap. This Autumn outing tour across multiple Scottish locations feels like a return to the roots of the industry, playing smaller venues and cutting to the heart of opera, emotional storytelling and musical technique. Four of the companies’ emerging stars come together to deliver a rousing collective of some of the finest, most intuitive and popular love songs.

Jeanne Pansard-Besson structures the Autumn Highlights to place the integrity of the composition and vocals at the forefront – lacking the traditional grandeur and spectacle one associate with the genre. And yet, it detracts nothing from the overall production; table and chairs are the only real flourishes of decoration to offer a sense of character building and scene changes. Instead, the company use their performance abilities, transitions and expression to weave a story around the accompanying song choices.

Behind the choice in music, Derek Clark does more than pick some cheesy romance ditties, building a narrative in the choices as the vocalists incorporate a secondary performance element of storytelling. Four friends, sharing in the passions of love and marriage, have separate encounters of the love. Pregnancies, loss, and re-united passion, the Autumn Highlights span the complex and painful avenues of the heart from teenage flirtations to the more difficult moments in life.

Performance elements outside of the vocals air on the side of caution, less accomplished than their musical capabilities, acting performances are present but nothing refined or special. Vocal skill is where the collective talents lie, with Alexey Gusev’s confident baritone carrying the group sublimely. Deep and rich, counterpointed with Lea Shaw and Meinir Wyn Roberts’ soprano notes. Perhaps with the most diverse range, Wyn Roberts stretches those soprano notes across a unique spread of various love songs, as too does Glen Cunningham, as the pair tackle the pinnacles of the genre with CarmenDon Giovanni and Gounod’s Romeo et Juliett; culminating in a rather spiffing rendition of what else? But Die Fledermaus’s Champagne Song.

Enjoyable, the technique overall has room to reach before perfection, and as intricate as Glen Cunningham’s tenor is, it requires a greater level of projection – especially in the smaller venues without live mics. The Autumn Highlights is a clean and pleasant evening but also rings of Scottish Opera getting back into the swing of live – performance, certainly understandable.

Save for Mezzo-Soprano Lea Shaw, Scottish Opera emerging talent, balancing a nuance of performance within her stellar control of vocals. Measured, Shaw moves between upbeat numbers to sombre pieces touching on the difficulties of a child’s death with dignity and appropriate expressions and where required, her vocals cut across while maintaining a harmonious stand-out to the audience.

As loathed as some stars may be to admit it, the core of flow lies at the hands of the orchestra and musical director and in this case, pianist, Fiona MacSherry who controls the tempo with effortless comfort. Pleasant and unobtrusive, MacSherry’s presence adds a dimension of vintage concert hall music, the piano at the side of the stage, enhancing the return to Opera’s more public roots. Simple, clean and a warming evening experience, the Autumn Highlights reminds audiences of the emerging talents of Scottish Opera and reintroduces them to stripped back, wholesome performance. 

Scottish Opera Autumn Highlights in touring across Scotland, dates and tickets can be located here.

Photo Credit – Beth Chalmers

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