Scottish Opera – Fever! Teaching & Parental Resources

Continuing their commitment to broadening the scopes of opera and young minds across Scotland and the UK, Scottish Opera is making a wealth of materials and learning tools available to the public, aimed at children studying around the primary five-seven brackets.

As of today (May 11th) schools and families will have access to online teaching resources for the popular primary schools production Fever! Featuring music by Alan Penman, with lyrics courtesy of Allan Dunn, Fever! Was first performed in 2011 and has remained a firm favourite since. For the first time, this online version of the tool has been made available for those at home, allowing the country to delve into the humorous and fast-paced tale. All of which will culminate in a nationwide virtual performance at the end of June.

Underpinning an appropriately aged message, tackling the concepts of epidemics, viral transmissions and the equally as dangerous spreading of false news, Fever! tells the story of a young boy who is overcome by a mysterious illnessAs the doctors frantically search for a cure, a rush of media, hungry for a piece of the scoop, bombard the hospital.

Until June 15th, this series of audio teaching tracks, activity materials and videos will cover a variety of topics, not limiting themselves to the obvious. Creative writing, prop and costume creation, and science will all be incorporated into the tools. Featuring seasoned cast members Lucy Hutcheson and Alan McKenzie from the Primary School tours, illustrations for the resources are by Iain Piercy. Advocating the communication of story through artistic means, the tools also look at the mechanics of the human body, disease, and perhaps vitally for younger generations, the impact of the press and media on everyday lives. Designed to tie into teachers delivering core elements of the Curriculum of Excellence such as social studies, history, technologies, literacy, and citizenship, the tools are equally available to parents outside of the curriculum.

For those who think opera can only exist in the past, Scottish Opera once more reminds us that the art form is relevant, accessible and underpins contemporary issues. Information and resources can be located here: www.scottishopera.org.uk/fever.

Photo credit – Sally Jubb

Covid-19 – Theatre/Events responses & information

As of March 16th, the Scottish Government advises a policy to protect the capacity of our public services, advising that organisers should cancel or postpone all mass events of 500 people or more – indoors or outdoors.

Below is an ongoing list of Scottish Theatre & events venues which have provided their stance on the matter, with many revaluating constantly in accordance with government advice and the safety of the public and their staff paramount. This page will seek to guide, inform and update readers to which venues remain open, have cancelled events (which should be checked on their respective websites, or have gone dark (closed).

If you have purchased tickets for events or production in the coming weeks/months, we recommend you get in contact with the representatives of the theatres. Box office numbers and website listings for an email address and contact details are below. Please bear in mind the difficult time for these companies, with staff working their hardest to support audiences, talent and each other. The person at the other end of your enquiry is potentially about to have no job for the foreseeable future.

Edinburgh & Lothians:

Assembly RoxyBox Office: 0131 623 3030 – www.assemblyfestival.com
Current Status: Dark

Bedlam Theatre https://bedlamtheatre.co.uk
Current Status: Events cancelled

The BruntonBox Office: 0131 665 2240 – www.thebrunton.co.uk
Current Status: Dark

Church Hill Theatre www.assemblyroomsedinburgh.co.uk
Current Status: Shows postponed

The Festival Theatre & The King’s Theatre Box Office 0131 529 6000www.capitaltheatres.com
Current Status: Dark

The Playhouse – Box Office: 0844 871 3014 – www.atgtickets.com
Current Status: Dark

The Royal Lyceum Theatre – Box Office 0131 248 4848 – https://lyceum.org.uk
Current Status: Dark

Scottish Storytelling Centre – 0131 556 9579 https://www.scottishstorytellingcentre.com/
Current Status: Show Cancellation

Summerhall – Box Office 0131 560 1581 – https://www.summerhall.co.uk/
Current Status: Dark

The Traverse Theatre – Box office: 0131 228 1404www.traverse.co.uk
Current Status: Dark

Glasgow:

Glasgow Tramway – Box Office 0845 330 3501 – https://www.tramway.org/Pages/home.aspx
Current Status: Dark

King’s Theatre Royal – Contact Info 0844 871 7648 – https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/kings-theatre-glasgow/info/
Current Status: Dark

Òran Mór – Contact Into 0141 357 6200 – https://oran-mor.co.uk/
Current Status: Dark

The Pavilion Theatre – Box Office 0141 332 1846 – https://www.paviliontheatre.co.uk/
Current Status: Dark

The Royal Conservatoire Scotland – Box Office +44 (0) 141 332 5057 – https://www.rcs.ac.uk/coronavirus-faqs/
Current Status: Suspending productions until further notice

The Tron Theatre – Box Office 0141 552 4267 – https://www.tron.co.uk/
Current Status: Dark

Aberdeen

Aberdeen Performing Arts: Encompassing The Lemon Tree, His Majesty’s Theatre and The Music Hall – 01224 641122 – https://www.aberdeenperformingarts.com/coronavirus/
Current Status: Dark

The Trivoli Theatre – Contact Number 01224 592755 – https://thetivolitheatre.com/
Current Status: Dark

Dundee and Perthshire:

Dundee Rep – Box Office 01382 223530 – https://www.dundeerep.co.uk/
Current Status: Dark

The Space – https://www.dundee.com/activity/space
Current Status: Dark

Perth Theatre & Concert Hall – Box Office 01738 621031 – https://www.horsecross.co.uk/
Current Status: Dark

Fife:

The Adam Smith Theatre – Box Office 01592 583302 – https://www.onfife.com/venues/adam-smith-theatre
Current Status: Show Cancellations

The Alhambra Theatre – Box Office 01383 740 384 – https://alhambradunfermline.com/
Current Status: Show Cancellations

The Byre Theatre – Box Office 01334 475000 – https://byretheatre.com/
Current Status: Dark, starting March 15th until May 31st

Rothes Hall – Box Office 01592 611101https://www.onfife.com/venues/rothes-halls
Current Status: Show Cancellations

Stirling:

The Macroberts Art Centre –  01786 466666https://macrobertartscentre.org/
Current Status: Dark

Ayr:

The Gaiety Theatre – Box Office 01292 288235 – https://thegaiety.co.uk/
Current Status: Dark

Greenock:

The Beacon Arts Centre – 01475 723 723https://www.beaconartscentre.co.uk/
Current Status: Dark

Highlands:

Eden Court – Box Office 01463 234 234 – https://eden-court.co.uk/news/statement-on-covid-19-coronavirus
Current Status: Dark

Pitlochry Festival Theatre – Box Office +44 (0)1796 484 626 – https://pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com/
Current Status: Dark

Dumfries:

The Theatre Royal – Box Office 01387 254209 – https://www.theatreroyaldumfries.co.uk/
Current Status: Dark

Honourable Mention:

The Royal & Derngate (Theatre & Cinema) – Box Office: 01604 624811 – https://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/
Curent Status: Dark

This page shall update if & when information is received, in the meanwhile stay safe, smart and support your local arts. They’re going to need it in the coming months.

Nixon in China – Festival Theatre

Opera by John Adams, Liberetto by Alice Goodman

Directed by John Fulljames

Gorbachev & Reegan, Putin & al Assad, Blair & Bush, Johnston & the highest bidder – throughout history, politicians have had their images emblazoned with that of another. None quite so unexpected as Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-tung, Chairman of the Communist Party of China. An event the world never thought they would see, the President of the US stepping foot into China. Was it an act of peace, a way forward with the Soviet Union, or just a smokescreen to improve Nixon’s plummet in opinion? The face of Mao Tse-tung still reverberates in China, though his symbolic presence seems to wane. Nixon, scarred by the marks of corruption, would find at least another place in histories lexicon as the man who would pave the future for other presidents.

Considerably shrouded, Nixon’s visit to China with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger is an effective time-period to transcribe into opera. A mere decade later John Adams, with libretto from poet Alice Goodman, would craft an opera which would open as much a path as Nixon’s visit had done, this time for the synthetic manipulation of sound for ‘mainstream’ libretto’s. Chartering their time from Air-Force One’s landing to a profoundly intimate epilogue on the people behind the parties Nixon in China, in the hands of Scottish Opera, is a powerhouse of aria, composition and powerplay.

Taking their first foray into Scottish opera’ clan, American baritone Eric Greene champions the part of Richard Nixon, refraining from the cheap characteristics of trademarks. Commanding, while conveying an endearing attraction of presence, it’s difficult not to see the President who would hoodwink many. As Henry Kissinger, David Stout captures a far more playful perspective, which exudes an animated characterisation as the narrative advances. Opening with the meeting of Nixon and Chou En-lai, China’s Premier, the men soon sit with a rapidly ageing Mao Tse-tung, more a philosopher than he was a Politian. Equally as compelling, Mark Le Brocq has a ghostly presence, with a voice harmonising the growing frustrations and deafening silences as the two world leaders talk.

At what may first seem a man’s opera, Nixon in China begins to centre around the women, not behind, but besides these men. Transitioning into an avant-garde piece, Pat Nixon and Chiang Ch’ing (Madame Mao Tse-Tung) Carneiro squarely frames these women in the dynamic they exude. Julia Sporsén spends much of the first act in the presence of her husband, which starkly alters as we enter act two, where from now on the production’s focus is away from the camera’s point of view and to a personal voyage. 

Sporsén’s control of her emotive range, beyond pure sensational sound, is world-class. Particularly for opera in the audience’s home language, here English, it’s easy to detach from the annunciating break in emotion, words we use daily drawn out. Obvious to this, Fulljames direction tethers Goodman’s poetry to the performers. Greene plays with this immeasurably, his charming, disingenuously schmoozy Nixon toying with the crowd.

Sporsén’s role contrasts Greene as the politician, though both reflected sympathetically. Bestowing kindness across histories image, geopolitics is but a framework, accurate, but not incorporated to align allegiance or point blame. Madame Mao Tse-tung (Hye-Youn Lee) an equally, inequitably powerful woman in her own right, stands polar to Pat Nixon, an intimidating, shrieking performance which dominates. Mesmeric in attitude, almost archaic in her sinister prowls, Hye-Youn Lee’s coloratura aria haunts with a vision untouchable by mortal means. Chiang Ch’ing’s position within the opera may serve to reinforce the relationship of the Nixon’s, as well as an accessible look into the often unknown life of Mao Tse-tung, but her inclusion shakes the dynamic enough, encompassing the production’s more creative, bespoke acts.

Initially reflective of the onerous tempo of the piece, Carneiro’s conduction takes time to build from the gravity laden slowness into the energetic rhythms in a more subdued manner than one expects. Further diverse than first appearances, Nixon in China refrains from the confines of expectation, carving its path alongside Goodman’s libretto. Adam’s infusion of heavy brass elements with Stravinskian neoclassicism, injecting a heaping os saxophone jazz to reflect Nixon’s youth. Leaping into a softer palette accompanying traditional dance of the nation builds in a prolonged resolution, which returns to the classical roots of the genre. John Ross’ original choreography manipulates this production into a piece of movement. Intense, reflective but all the while subverting expectation, the Scottish Opera orchestra champion the onstage vocals sensationally.

And it takes a voice to stand-out on this stage, a design which defines the term ‘epic’ in droves of creativity, integrating into the narrative mechanics, as opposed to flashy or gimmicky. Exploring the past, delving into the personal story, much of Nixon in China may present itself as a live unfolding of events, but truly this is a rich archive of investigation. Still photos under the spot lamps, raw video footages, crates groaning with historical artefacts and Deliveroo for the hungry archivists. John Adams opera has been remodelled by Scottish Opera, utilising their talent for perfecting an already genre-defining piece. Here the meta-narrative slashes down myth, the sepia-tints of history sift away before us in fluid space, examining the bones rather than the legend.

Of course, legend has a place in Dick Bird’s design work – his unfolding scenes echo an almost story-book transition. With live theatre, within the production, being staged for the ‘pleasure’ of the visiting American’s, Bird’s design plays heavily with a dream-scale of colours, palette and lighting. Notably a tricolour of women, Chinese performers forging a connection with Pat Nixon, where opera marries as close as possible with dance, poetry and theatre. The revolving stage, vintage projectors capturing the moment on film, all confined to a warehouse of hundreds of boxes, each containing a treasured memory or revelation of the political meeting of the century.

Revolutionising the spirit of Opera, staying authentic to its roots, but lifting the visage of this artform to stellar heights – Scottish Opera achieves a starkly modern, edgy production with a pulsing beat of classical direction and inspiration. A decisive moment of modern history, it’s explosive reverberations clenched tightly within three-hours of lyrical majesty.

Touring information can be found at: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/shows/nixon-in-china/

Photo credit: James Glossop