Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Scottish Opera Five:15

Scottish Opera continue to explore new ways of making high art accessible to new audiences.


The thrill of Scottish Opera’s Five: 15 programme lies in the proximity of the audience to the performers. More used to a large stage, their movements and emotions are exaggerated and powerful: in an intimate setting like Oran Mor, they are overwhelming. With the orchestra situated behind the stage, and the simple set almost imitating a classical Greek theatre, with two stairwells, a raised platform and a front stage, the singers are directly in front of the limited audience, bringing an immediacy to these five variable short pieces.

Then there is the excitement of experiencing a new form. The fifteen minute opera is more like a poem than a traditional epic, exploring a single theme or, as in Remembrance Day by Louise Welch and Stuart MacRae, a short story. Across the performance, sex, death, ambition and the conflict between science and religion are all briefly explored in a format that is suggestive rather than conclusive. While this is a long way from traditional opera, it opens up new possibilities of staging and engagement with an audience.

This is most effective when the subject matter is slight and allusive. David Fennessy and Nicholas Bone offer Happy Story, a series of scenes that celebrate ambition and determination, and Margaret McCartney/Gareth William’s White captures a tiny tragedy from a tangential angle. The Lightning Rod Man is clumsy and overblown, both musically and dramatically, pitching a Whitmanesque mystic against a sensible materialist, while Remembrance Day, while it considers the importance of music, sacrifices intensity for the macabre.

However the entire programme has the sense of cohesion and development that puts it above most experimental or group works. As part of Scottish Opera’s brave moves to find new audiences, Five: 15 is thought-provoking and entertaining, probing possibilities without sacrificing quality.

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