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Reviews: Music

Scottish Opera, Madama Butterfly

Scottish Opera, Madama Butterfly

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Catherine Robb

Scottish Opera and Puccini's Butterfly have shared a long and important past; the opera was chosen by Sir Alexander Gibson to launch the company's first season in 1962, and since then, this particular production, which was originally envisioned by Sir David McVicar 14 years ago, has been revived twice. Despite their history, this year it felt as if the company and the opera were newly acquainted friends, welcoming each other with hopeful anticipation, but still ironing out the complexities and uncertainties in their relationship.

It was only by the end of Act 2 that the singers and the understated simple staging felt at home with each other. Act 1 was laboured and one-dimensional, and at times the orchestra overpowered the strained singing. Hye-Youn Lee portrayed the innocence of Butterfly to such an extent that she seemed annoying rather than delightful and beguiling. Lee's rendition of the opera's most famous aria, One Fine Day, was the moment she really arrived on stage; her singing from then on was captivating. Pinkerton (Jose Ferrero) was also a late bloomer, singing his character's conflicts between desire and cultural tradition most convincingly in Act 3.

Once in the swing of things, Hanna Hipp's singing of Butterfly's maid and Adrian Thompson's rendition of Goro were wonderfully executed. The chorus too, were glorious - it's just a shame we didn't see more of them.

Stealing the evening, however, was young Jude Daly who played Butterfly's son. He directed himself on stage with poise and maturity, throwing his teddy bear with perfect aim and providing the only, much needed, glimmer of light humour. The production is worth a visit, if only to see him shine.

SCO/Krivine

City Hall, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

IF you're into the star-rating system for concerts, you'll be expecting five for the numbing and searching performance on Friday by the SCO, its armour-clad SCO Chorus, four bullet-proof vocal soloists and French conductor Emmanuel Krivine, who, en passant, was announced in Friday's programme as the SCO's new principal guest conductor.

But Krivine rather summarily despatched Schumann's Overture, Scherzo and Finale, suggesting it was just a first-half filler before the main event: the second-half performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, for which the SCO was beefed up with extra strings as well as the required heavy armoury of trombones and percussion, along with its full chorus (in powerhouse form) and four vocal soloists who fitted exactly into the context of the choral and vocal finale.

This was a great Beethoven Nine, because it went to the root of what the creation of this symphony was about, and touched all the key nerves of Beethoven's colossal effort to get it hammered into shape.

Remember, it wasn't his first symphonic revolution: go back to the Eroica Symphony for that. But not even that anticipated what would happen in the Ninth, 20 years later, with the deaf composer, from the first suspenseful bars of the symphony to the blazing choral and orchestral coda, piling up a tension that, in this gripping performance, seemed to have the music pushing hard against a heavyweight, impenetrable barrier, above which ran the legend: "Beyond here, the Future"; and my God, under the cumulative force, power and energy of this performance, in alliance with the genius creativity of Beethoven, the damned barrier fell apart and the Future poured through.

RSNO Naked Classics

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

EVEN by the virtuoso standards he has established over the years since the inception of the RSNO's Naked Classics series, presenter extraordinaire Paul Rissmann excelled himself in Saturday night's tour de force analysis and presentation of the most fundamental repertoire of all, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, with the RSNO completely collaborative under Swiss conductor Baldur Bronnimann (an underrated guy: it was he who conducted an amazing performance of Shostakovich Four with the RCS Symphony Orchestra some years ago) and his full performance of Beethoven Five in the second half of Naked Classics on Saturday was taut and gripping.

But Rissmann's astoundingly fearless presentation of the symphony, with every detail of the music, its unifying elements in harmony, rhythm and melody, along with Beethoven's reiterated, obsessive repetitions of that four-note opening Fate motive rendered transparent to the big audience, was a masterpiece of communication.

He talked to the conductor onstage, he talked to the musicians in their seats, every strand in their chats revealing another link, another element, in the amazing construction of the symphony. He even tackled head-on the structure of the music, explaining in detail the complexities of Sonata Form, which seemed a bit close to the technical edge, until he explained, with yet more of his magical, astonishing computer graphics and visual displays, and to outright hilarity in the audience, that "every episode of Fawlty Towers was in Sonata Form".

It was an absolutely cracking night, with perceived barriers tumbling all around, and the highest and meatiest of high art being blessed with a common touch and available to Everyman. It was a huge public success.

Tori Amos

O2 Academy, Glasgow

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Somebody forgot to tell Tori Amos that she had a new album to promote. Dressed in an emerald green kimono and straddling the gap between her piano and harpsichord with a presence and fierceness that would put contemporary pop poppets to shame, the flame-haired songwriter performed something of a greatest hits set for her Scottish fans, spanning as far back as Etienne from 1988 pre-solo career album, Y Kant Tori Read.

Enthralled throughout, there was nobody in the audience complaining.

Set opener Paraso , from 2005's The Beekeeper, was late material by comparison. A gorgeous song with a piano riff that sounded like the world spinning on its axis, it set the scene perfectly for a set leaning heavily on some of the more abstractly confessional songs from early albums Little Earthquakes and Boys For Pele.

Doughtnut Song from the latter in front of a blanket of blue fairy lights was an early highlight, its central "you've been wasting all my time" lyric spat out with the same ferocity it held in the artist's 30s.

With a cry of "okay Scotland, this is how it's done" the lighting changed, and a ferocious cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) nudged an enraptured, respectful audience into raucousness.

From then on it was hit after hit: Crucify, its 90s brimstone replaced by a steely resentment and an echo effect on the chorus like a roomful of unrepentant Toris; a spellbinding rendition of "Winter" and funked-up, sensual Take to the Sky, the piano turned into percussion.

A late inclusion of poetic new album track Selkie, its myths and mist perhaps selected as tribute to her location, pointed to plenty more to come.

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