Opera Scotland

H M S Pinafore 2015Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera H M S Pinafore

After a brief appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival, with an enjoyable concert performance of H M S Pinafore, Scottish Opera's 2015-16 season proper began with a revival of the staging of Carmen by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser. This was first put on by Welsh National Opera, and was mounted by Scottish Opera in 1999. This ran in tandem with a new small-scale tour of Così fan tutte. In the New Year the premiere of a new work by Stuart MacRae, The Devil Inside, was followed by three further operas being given by the company for the first time - Ariodante, Rusalka and The Mikado.

No doubt there were moans from some quarters because one of the meagre number of slots provided for opera at the Edinburgh International Festival nowadays should be devoted to work by Gilbert and Sullivan. However in recent years Brian McMaster has let us hear works by French and Spanish equivalents, and quite right too. Despite their cultural significance, the works of G & S have been comprehensively cold-shouldered by the Festival up to now - the overture to The Yeomen of the Guard kicked off a concert half a century ago, and seems to be the only previous example. The BBC Proms in London, presumably under the influence of that acknowledged Sullivan expert, the late Sir Charles Mackerras, have presented several of them in recent years in a successful semi-staged format. It seems high time therefore that the Festival did likewise. In the event, it later became clear that there was a second motive, in that a recording appeared on CD a few months later.

If you are going to perform these works at an international Festival, and there is no reason why not, then they need to be cast with the best quality artists, and for a one-off concert the bar can be set quite high. Here was a superb assemblage of Festival regulars, not generally associated with the repertoire - Toby Spence, John Mark Ainsley, Neal Davies - and arguably less familiar stars in Elizabeth Watts, Hilary Summers, Kitty Whately (well known at the Perth Festival) and Andrew Foster-Williams. Richard Egarr, a recognized figure as a regular guest in charge of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, is perhaps thought of more as a baroque specialist (and played the harpsichord to excellent effect in a recital earlier in the week). Scottish Opera had a success a couple of years ago with Pirates of Penzance, so a rapid follow-up was desirable - in addition to this delightful one-off, a full-scale Mikado is now promised for next season. The scheduling also showed a bit of thought - teatime on Sunday, and run through without an interval - Pinafore is a short piece, ninety minutes, frequently performed as part of a double-bill.

This performance was great fun, from the opening, distinctly frisky, bars of the overture, with a beautifully languorous oboe solo. Good as the soloists were, honours really went to the chorus and orchestra on crisp, enthusiastic form. The choristers are freelance, and no longer trade as the Scottish Opera Chorus. But names and faces are largely familiar, and they sang beautifully, rising to the challenge of a one-off performance.

The Usher Hall was packed and the listeners hugely enthusiastic from the start. The concert format (with supertitles) helped project the Gilbertian witticisms in the lyrics, though most of the diction was beautifully clear anyway. The narration provided by Tim Brooke-Taylor in place of the dialogue also helped with the linkage of episodes, for the many who seemed unfamiliar with the piece. Whether the slightly arch narration would survive repeated listening on the recording might, however, be debatable.

Performance Cast

Little Buttercup Mrs Cripps, a Portsmouth Bumboat Woman

Hilary Summers

Bill Bobstay Boatswain's mate

Gavan Ring

Dick Deadeye Able Seaman

Neal Davies

Bob Becket Carpenter's Mate

Barnaby Rea

Ralph Rackstraw Able Seaman

Toby Spence

Captain Corcoran commanding H.M.S. Pinafore

Andrew Foster-Williams

Josephine the Captain's Daughter

Elizabeth Watts

Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB First Lord of the Admiralty

John Mark Ainsley

Hebe Sir Joseph's First Cousin

Kitty Whately

Performance DatesH M S Pinafore 2015

Map List

Usher Hall | Edinburgh

23 Aug, 17.00

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