Opera Scotland

Alistair Digges and Douglas Nairne with Opera Scotland

Posted 4 Apr

Douglas started by outlining the mission statement of Opera Bohemia - "To produce more operatic performances across Scotland; to create opportunitites for professional artists in all areas of opera; and finally to introduce opera to first time attenders and a younger generation in an accessible way."

Opera Scotland: When did you start up?

Alistair: We're now in our third year. We started in 2010. We had a period of time when we were free to put on a production and decided to try La bohème, to be in it ourselves and with friemds. We had no intention of starting a company but lots more people came to the performances than we thought and there was interest from other venues in the show. That led to lots more performances across Scotland.  After La bohème, we put on Lucia then Butterfly.

Douglas: Three years later, we are about to go on to our fourth show. We're putting on Eugene Onegin in Edinburgh, in St Cuthbert's Church in Lothian Road during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Then we're taking it to Kirkcaldy Old Kirk and finally Glasgow, St John's Renfield Church.

Alistair:  We performed the first year in Kirkcaldy and Glasgow as they're our home towns and we knew we could draw good audiences there. We decided it would be daft not to try Edinburgh during the Festival.  We sold two hundred tickets each night in Edinburgh the first year. We were quite pleasantly surprised. Now with our Easter tour of Madam Butterfly, we are able to go to six of the smaller theatres across Scotland.

There's so much more we can do with the shows dramatically at venues like Woodend Barn, Strathpeffer Pavilion and the Gardyne in Dundee. We get technical staff and the lighting can be effective, especially in our new production of Madam Butterfly.

Opera Scotland:  You do everything yourselves?

Douglas:  At the moment we do almost everything ourselves, from funding applications to hiring and driving the van.  We cast the production, and then there's everything like advertising, posters and flyers, scheduling...everything!  We have taken opportunities to step back as performers as we focus on producing the shows. 

AlistairDouglas stepped out of Butterfly, I'm stepping out of Onegin. This means we can introduce new faces. We've had baritone Whitaker Mills who studied at the Juilliard and the opera course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  This summer the guest singer is Tyler Clarke - he's just sung Count Almaviva at English National Opera. He is coming to sing Lensky with us. Next year neither of us will be performing on stage - we can concentrate on producing and promoting our shows.

Opera Scotland:  Have you got any sense that audiences are developing loyalty to you?

Douglas:  One indicator is our Friends list - it has nearly doubled. Always very surprised to see how many people take the time to write to us afterwards.

Some of them are from people who'd never seen an opera before, and they're saying they loved it.  We also want to appeal to regular opera-goers.  We want everyone to see the opera in a form they can relate to, that's accessible.  We do try to strike a balance. We do not want them to feel we've taken liberties, reduced it or cut it down too much.

Alistair: Our biggest growing audience is in Edinburgh. We're now getting almost double what we got at first, and we hope to continue growing.  the obvious choice of opera for us was one of the top five or six, such as La bohème and Madam Buttrfly.  then we wanted to put something on a bit less well known. We did Lucia di Lammermoor. We try to make sure there are Scottish people involved where possible and of course guests also. The first year we had the South African soprano, Pumeza Matshikiza. For Lucia we were lucky to have Susannne Shakespeare.  she came to our first rehearsal having just flown in from Australia. She had been singing Queen of the Night at the Sydney Opera House.   She sang Lucia perfectly. At no point did she miss a high note, never marked it eeither. And then to discover she had Scottish heritage, grandparent I think!

Opera Scotland:  What is your first memory of opera?

Douglas:  My first memory is Fife Opera's La bohème, Act IV in the Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy. My mum was singing Mimi, my dad Colline. I still remember my poor mum being dead in bed and my dad wearing an orange waistcoat.  This was in 1984, I was four years old!

Alistair:  The first couple of operas I went to, bizarrely, I can remember I disliked them. I saw Wagner's Parsifal when I was far too young, I love it now.  When I saw the Marriage of Figaro for the first time I did not take to it like I do now.  Opera is a journey, you have to get to it in the right way. Puccini is a great thing to go to. I remember seeing Turandot at the Royal Opera. I wish I'd seen it as my first opera.

Douglas: One of our aims has been to take opera round the country. We think the role of Opera Bohemia is to help introduce people to opera. It has to ba available and accessible. There's still a stigma attached to attending opera, especially when it's sung in a foreign language.  We try in every production to get the opera to relate to issues today. The stories really are simple. We have surtitles so the plots are very clear, and try to relate the topics to modern life. 

This year we've been supported by Creative Scotland making it easier to take our productions round the country to reach a new audience.

Opera Scotland:  Book your tickets for Butterfly by clicking through the pins on our map here.

  Thanks for your time, and we hope the tour goes well!

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