Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

'Aspects of Love': Jakub Józef Orliński at Wigmore Hall

Boretti, Predieri, Conti, Matteis, Orlandini, Mattheson: masters of the Baroque? Yes, if this recital by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is anything by which to judge.

Otello at Covent Garden: superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

Death in Venice at Deutsche Oper Berlin

This death in Venice is not the end, but the beginning.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Steven Page as the Old Man [Photo by Bill Cooper]
15 Feb 2016

The Devil Inside, Scottish Opera

The route that Stuart MacRae and Louse Welsh have taken for their first full-length opera is reassuringly traditional in terms of getting experience of the genre, whilst the resulting work shows itself to be admirably anything but.

The Devil Inside

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Steven Page as the Old Man

Photos by Bill Cooper

 

The two started with two shorter works, the 15 minuteRemembrance Day which was part ofScottish Opera's Five:15 - Operas Made in Scotland in 2009 and then the fifty minuteGhost Patrol in 2012 which was a Scottish Opera and Music Theatre Wales co-production. Their latest opera, The Devil Inside is again a co-production between Scottish Opera and Music Theatre Wales, with The Devil Inside being premiered by Scottish Opera in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and then touring England and Wales, with the same cast, with Music Theatre Wales.

We caught the London premiere of the opera on 3 February 2016 at the Peacock Theatre whenMichael Rafferty conducted the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble withNicholas Sharratt as Richard, Ben McAteer as James,Rachel Kelly as Catherine andSteven Page as the Old Man and a Vagrant. The director wasMatthew Richardson with design bySamal Blak, and lighting by Ace McCarron.

It is clear from the programme notes that the opera is very much a collaboration and that Louise Welsh (best known for her novels) did not simply write a text and hand it over to Stuart MacRae. The piece they have crafted is wonderfully thrilling and gripping, with a plot updating Robert Louis Stevenson's story The Bottle Imp to the 21st century. Richard (Nicholas Sharratt) and James (Ben McAteer) are lost in the mountains, the come across a mansion owned by an old man (Steven Page). The man reveals the secret of his wealth, a magic bottle which contains an imp which will fulfil all your wishes. The only drawback, the owner's soul is damned to Hell if they own it when they die, and they can only get rid of the bottle by selling it for less than they paid for it. At Richard's urging, James buys the bottle.

The_Devil_Inside_Rachel Cooper_photo_Bill Cooper_1770.pngRachel Kelly as Catherine

The remainder of the opera examines Richard and James's attitude to and need for the bottle and its imp. James eventually sells the bottle to Richard, and acquires a wife Catherine (Rachel Kelly) but they have need again when Katherine is diagnosed with a terminal illness. James has moral objections to the bottle, wondering whether good can come out of evil, whilst Richard is addicted and becomes like an addict who fails to cure his addiction.

The final scene, on a Pacific island where James and Catherine try to sell the bottle (now worth virtually the lowest coin possible) is rendered morally ambiguous by the participation of Richard who makes a final buy of the bottle, for one last wish. The result is an opera which has elements of the dark thriller. Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh really make you invest in the characters and what might happen to them. But woven into this are the themes of morality, moral ambiguity and addiction, as well as the transformative power of love.

Stuart MacRae is clearly a writer of orchestral music of great talent, his orchestral score for The Devil Inside doesn't so much accompany the singers as surround the vocal lines with a magical web of sound. The music moves flexibly between dissonance, tonality and atonality and the instrumental musicians made use of quarter tones too. This was most noticeable in the music for the bottle imp (the imp never singers but MacRae gives the orchestra a distinct and magical cast). It was a complete sound world which drew you in and carried you to the end.

The_Devil_Inside_Ben McAteer (left), Nicholas Sharratt (right)_photo_Bill Cooper_1013.pngBen McAteer as James and Nicholas Sharratt as Richard

The opera had hardly a spare moment, its seven scenes encompassed 110 minutes of music, and Louise Walsh's taut libretto uses very much a spare demotic style which is not without poetry. She is clearly aware of the need to leave space for the music.

The only aspect of the opera which worried me was the vocal writing. Stuart MacRae has clearly worked hard to make the vocal lines singable and of interest. But there seemed an insufficient distinction between different emotional states so that the overall tint of the vocal writing came over as too uniform. I wanted the more straightforward conversational moments to be far more differentiated from the complex emotional passages. It seemed to be only in the final scene that he ratched things up a notch. But this is a first full length opera and an enormous achievement so I look forward with interest to what Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh will do next.

Ben McAteer and Nicholas Sharratt formed a wonderful double act throughout the opera. Nicholas Sharratt's Richard started off nervy and excitable and then gave a stunning descent into addiction. By contrast Ben McAteer's James was the more stable and solid one, but constantly worrying about the moral qualities of using the bottle and disturbed not by addiction but by conscience. The two characters were profoundly disturbed by the moment when they asked the bottle imp to show itself. Though here, I wanted something more n the music, a sense of greater otherness. Ben McAteer's James also struggled with the transformative power as love as Rachel Kelly's Catherine came into James's life. Kelly gave a lovely portrait of someone carefree coming to terms with the grim realities of life (childlessness possible lack of love and death). Both McAteer and Kelly's characters endangered their souls for the sake of the other, in a depiction of love which wonderfully avoided the stickily sentimental. Steven Page gave to different yet vivid performances as the old man who sold the bottle at the beginning, and was gleeful to be relieved of it, and of a vagrant at the end.

Michael Rafferty conducted the 14 players of the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble who gave a dazzling performance of Stuart MacRae's often seductive and always fascinating score. The players were called upon to give us some interesting doublings, not just bassoon and contra-bassoon, but the oboist also plays a bagpipe practice chanter, and the violins play harmonicas at one point. They all brought an incisive precision to the music. Neither the instrumental ensemble nor the capable cast gave any hint that this was the first run of a new opera, so natural did the performance feel.

Matthew Richardson's production and Samal Blak's designs were imaginatively minimal, throwing focus on the performers and making us care for the characters. Blak's designs made striking use of projection, with a minimum of props.

I am not sure that the Peacock Theatre was the ideal venue for the performance; many venues on the tour are smaller. But this was a vividly gripping evening of opera which certainly made me look forward to more.

Robert Hugill


Cast and production information:

Richard: Nicholas Sharratt, James: Ben McAteer, Old Man & Vagrant: Steven Page, Catherine: Rachel Kelly. Director: Matthew Richardson, Designer: Samal Blak, Conductor: Michael Rafferty. Music Theatre Wales at the Peacock Theatre, 3 February 2016.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):