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Verdi and Wagner Gala, City Halls, Glasgow

This collaboration between Scottish Opera and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland celebrated the bicentenaries of opera heavyweights Wagner and Verdi.

Although many of the audience members were clearly opera aficionados, the programme presented a pleasing, inexpensive and short introduction for those less familiar with the genre.

The orchestra, a blend of Royal Conservatoire students and musicians from the Orchestra of Scottish Opera, were at their best during Verdi's popular Overture from La Forza del Destino, in which the solemn "fate" leitmotif portends the violence and death of the subsequent acts. Highlights of Wagner's instrumental works included the playful banter between the front desks of violins during his Overture to Tannhäuser, and some majestic lines from the horn section in the attention-grabbing Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin.

The finest treats, however, were the vocal performances, including Karen Cargill's interpretation of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. During the second song, Stehe Still, the volume of the orchestra overpowered Cargill's lower register; but all was well when the backing was sparser and her mezzo-soprano voice could weave together with the solo viola in the homesick Im Treibhaus, and soar above muted strings during the final song, Träume. Her colourful yet controlled performance drew shouts and lengthy applause from a delighted audience.

The final excerpts of the afternoon, from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, gave the 80-strong Royal Conservatoire Chorus the opportunity to deliver a really powerful sound. All seven soloists, including three RCS students, delivered robust performances, with tenor Jung Soo Yun particularly standing out as Amelia's lover, Adorno. Julian Tovey's expressive interpretation of Boccanegra's dying breaths, underscored by some beautiful bell-like notes from soprano Judith Howarth's Amelia, brought the story to a poignant end.


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