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:

Kátya Kabanová @ Festival Theatre

Image contribution:
James Glossop

Music/Libretto of Leoš Janáček

Directed by Stephen Lawless 

Conducted by Stuart Stratford

Scottish Opera continues its current season with their new co-production with Theater Magdeburg. Stephen Lawless’ staging of the statuesque beauty, both in libretto and design, of Leoš Janáček’s Kátya Kabanová. Adapted from Alexander Ostrovsky’s play, The Storm it’s a bittersweet tale of destiny, illicit love and isolation.

Accelerated a century or so from its original setting of the 1860s, Kátya (Laura Wilde) finds herself with deep desires for a young man called Boris (Ric Furman), who’s a far cry from her close-fisted impish runt of a husband, Tikhon (Samuel Sakker). Feeling as though something isn’t right with her life, Kátya begins to wonder if anything is truly a sin if destiny gives you no other choice?

For those still uneasy with the accessibility of opera, Janacek’s libretto is perhaps one of the more welcoming. Its ‘speech melody’ not only allows for an easier grasp of the language, it greatly enriches the narrative. Its flow is graceful and the structure is far from simplistic, though some performers, such as Furman, are lost to waves of the orchestra. Striking out above the pit though is Patricia Bardon’s Kabanicha – Kátya’s mother in law, bordering on pantomime villain but owning every exceptional moment.

Layers are not simply found within Leslie Travers’ sublime set design but throughout the production. The most noticeable layering is the unusual break from operatic aria and into traditional folk music,. Here Trystan Llŷr Griffiths’ turn with a bass guitar and cheerful beat forge a connection with the audience, drawing them further in and offering levity before the heavier tonal change.

Pacing takes an uglier turn towards the climax of the production. The third Act sits at thirty minutes, and encompasses confession and infidelity, all whilst tying loose ends in this prophetic closing to mirror the opening. Despite the short run time, the act is bogged down with pathos carried over from the first two.

Kátya Kabanová is, in its construction, libretto and vocals, rather beautiful. It’s a beauty found beneath the noir tones of the production, under the cruel and vindictive characters and the misery of industrial steel and stone, guarding against nature’s eventual claiming of the grave.

Review originally published for The Skinny: