Opera Scotland

Beggar's Opera 1981Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Beggar's Opera

In 1981 it was a surprise when the Cologne Opera's return visit was announced, only a year after their first appearance in Edinburgh. But their chief conductor, Sir John Pritchard, had a connection going right back to the earliest years of the Festival. This time they brought another Mozart piece, Clemenza, the Rossini Barber, and a recent British piece, Musgrave's Voice of Ariadne, unjustly neglected since its Aldeburgh premiere. Scottish Opera provided a lively modernised treatment of Gay's Beggar's Opera, not admired by everyone. Perhaps the greatest delight of all came from a rare staging of Leonard Bernstein's bubbly operetta Candide. This was put on in the Assembly Hall by Clive Perry's Birmingham Rep company, alternating with As You Like It.

Scottish Opera mounted this staging of The Beggar’s Opera at the Festival and then gave it an extensive tour the following autumn, which included a visit to the cavernous space of London's Dominion Theatre. The adaptation was by Guy Woolfenden, with many years' experience in charge of music at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Woolfenden's version gave the work a full-blown operatic treatment which was considered at the time to be too much of a good thing, in spite of the undoubted talents of the performers, led by him from the podium. Recent stagings have tended to try to return the work to something smaller in scale and more in keeping with the early 18th century.

The cast was led by Thomas Allen, who made a very convincing Macheath, though the vocal aspects of the part provided little to challenge him. Sadly, apart from his previous performances of Pelléas at the 1978 Festival, these were the only operatic performances he ever gave in Scotland.

The team of Scottish Opera regulars, including Bill McCue, Pat Hay, Linda Ormiston and Kate Flowers all did what they could with the material. The Scottish Opera Chorus members clearly had great fun with their lively and clearly differentiated characters. Following the example set by Iain Cuthbertson and Billy Connolly, there was also a popular representative of the traditional Scottish theatre world, Una McLean, who joined the company to give an excellent reading of Mrs Trapes. The atmospheric designs by Michael Annals provided an appropriately squalid setting.

Performance DatesBeggar's Opera 1981

Map List

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

1 Sep, 19.30 3 Sep, 19.30 5 Sep, 19.30

Theatre Royal, Newcastle | Newcastle-upon-Tyne

8 Sep, 19.15 10 Sep, 19.15 12 Sep, 19.15

DominionTheatre | London

16 Sep, 19.30 17 Sep, 19.30 18 Sep, 19.30 19 Sep, 19.30 21 Sep, 19.30 22 Sep, 19.30 23 Sep, 19.30 24 Sep, 19.30 25 Sep, 19.30 26 Sep, 19.30

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

7 Oct, 19.15 10 Oct, 19.15 13 Oct, 19.15 15 Oct, 19.15 17 Oct, 14.15

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