Scottish Opera's Highlights tour is a long-running institution which marks the approach of spring by taking four singers and a pianist on a gruelling tour of those parts of the country remote from mainstage opera. Audience members often travel long distances even to reach these places. and the performers have the opportunity to visit regions of the country they may never see again. The performances in fifteen far-flung venues ran from 14 February to 18 March.
Derek Clark, the company's Head of Music, always compiles a fascinating programme with a blend of the familiar and the unknown. This time the extracts range through Handel, Mozart, Puccini, Sullivan and others, including a new piece by Lliam Paterson on the theme of Bluebeard, which ties in with his larger work, The 8th Door, composed as a companion piece for Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle in the company's main season.
The OperaScotland team caught up with the tour on Thursday, 9 March at the Village Hall of Strathmiglo in Fife, two-thirds of the way through. Only the island of Arran, Killin in Perthshire, Bathgate in West Lothian and Sunart in Argyll remained - enough of an indication of the huge distances travelled.
In previous years the programme has been set up in such a way that the singers can use spoken narratives to link the musical items into a reasonably coherent whole, laying out some kind of a story. This season was slightly different. The premise was simply that the quartet of singers and the pianist have been touring the country by train, which breaks down, marooning them somewhere remote. Perhaps better not to tempt fate by suggesting that their minibus might be in any way unreliable. While the singers await rescue, they are able to indulge in a range of daydreams or nightmares. This allows for the inclusion of pretty much any piece they fancy, often inserted without reference to its true situation.
There were a few popular favourites - the Rossini, Puccini, Verdi, Gounod, Cilea and Sullivan. However the Mozart items were largely rareties. Some pieces were essentially unknown - Handel, Schubert, Leoncavallo, Lortzing, Nicolai, Quilter. There was also an enjoyable new piece by Lliam Paterson, in which he reversed the situation of Bluebeard's Castle by having Judith poison the Duke.
The performers were all on good form, including the brilliant accompanist, Jonathon Swinard. Roisín Walsh had some of the 'pops' but also an unknown Schubert piece. Emma Kerr's first solo was Dejanira's alarming mad scene from Hercules. Later, her Rosina from The Barber of Seville was also given a different dramatic twist - no sly minx, but something altogether more dangerous. Elgan Llyr Thomas gave distinguished accounts of arias for Macduff (Verdi) and Fenton (Nicolai) as well as the full-voiced Lehár number. Adam Gilbert's contributions included notable rareties from La finta giardiniera and Zazà.
There were several good examples of them working together - for instance the Lortzing and Weber quartets and the trio from Clemenza. The Quilter quartet was an attractive piece, and the evening ended with an encore - an excellently crafted arrangement of the scurrilous Song of Jenny from Weill's Lady in the Dark - composed originally for Gertrude Lawrence, and which Scottish Opera once presented with Patricia Hodge and the late Richard Griffiths.
The full programme was:
Puccini: La bohème 'In un coupé' (ELT; AG).
Handel: Hercules 'Where shall I fly?' (EK).
Verdi: La traviata 'Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo' (RW; ELT).
Mozart: La finta giardiniera 'Con un vezzo all'Italiana' (AG).
Schubert: Die Verschwörenen 'Ich schleiche bang' (RW).
Mozart: La clemenza di Tito 'Quello di Tito è il volto' (EK, ELT, AG).
Verdi: Macbeth 'O figli, o figli miei!....Ah, la paterna mano' (ELT).
Mozart: The Magic Flute 'The man who feels love's sweet emotion' (RW; AG).
Leoncavallo: Zazà 'Zazà, piccolo zingara' (AG).
Gounod: Faust 'Oh Dieu! Que de bijoux' (RW).
Lortzing: Der Wildschütz 'Kann es im Erdenleben' (Quartet).
Nicolai: Die lustigen Weiber vom Windsor 'Horch, die Lerche singt im Hain' (ELT).
Weber: Oberon 'Over the dark blue waters' (Quartet).
Paterson: 'Bluebeard's Cake' First public performances (RW; AG).
Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia 'Una voce poco fa' (EK).
Gluck: Paride ed Elena ' O del mio dolce ardor' (AG).
Ravel: L'enfant et les sortilèges The Teapot and the China Cup (EK; ELT).
Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur 'Io son l'umile ancella' (RW).
Sullivan: Ruddigore 'I once was a very abandoned person' (EK; AG).
Sullivan: The Yeomen of the Guard 'Strange Adventure' (Quartet).
Lehár: Frederica 'Oh maiden, my maiden' (ELT).
Weill: Lost in the Stars 'Stay well' (EK).
Quilter: Love at the Inn 'In praise of wine and love' (Quartet).
Weill: Lady in the Dark The Story of Jenny (encore - arr for Quartet).
Platform, The Bridge | Easterhouse
14 Feb, 19.30
Town Hall, Maybole | Maybole, Ayrshire
16 Feb, 19.30
Theatre Royal, Dumfries | Dumfries
18 Feb, 19.30
Woodend Barn | Banchory, Kincardineshire
21 Feb, 19.30
Gairloch Community Hall, Raonmor | Achtercairn Brae
23 Feb, 19.30
Community Centre, Nairn | Nairn
25 Feb, 19.30
Village Hall, Durness | Durness
28 Feb, 19.30
Community Hall, Ardross | Ardross, Ross-shire
2 Mar, 19.30
Dalrymple Hall | Fraserburgh
4 Mar, 19.30
Memorial Hall, Lanark | Lanark
7 Mar, 19.30
Public Hall, Strathmiglo | Strathmiglo, Fife
9 Mar, 19.30
Brodick Hall, Arran | Arran
11 Mar, 19.30
McLaren Hall, Killin | Killin
14 Mar, 19.30
Regal Community Theatre | Bathgate
16 Mar, 19.30
Sunart Centre | Strontian
18 Mar, 19.30
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