Opera

The 8th Door/Bluebeard's Castle

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

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Keith Bruce

five stars

IN a Spring season to be proud of, Scottish Opera's new double-bill of a new work by composer-in-residence Lliam Paterson and Bela Bartok's powerful two-hander, both staged by the founder and artistic director of Vanishing Point theatre company, Matthew Lenton, raises the bar further. It may not be to the taste of all opera buffs, but this Bluebeard's superbly theatrical combination of naturalism and the boldly emblematic is a debut to win many new fans to the art form.

In that it is helped by a full deck of superb performances. Mezzo Karen Cargill is simply at the top of her best remarkable form as Judith and Robert Hayward may be an old hand as Bluebeard, but the duo's portrayal of the exclusive intimacy of a besotted couple is this production's alone. The orchestra, conducted by Sian Edwards in perfect balance with the singers, finds every nuance in the score, richly toned and metronomic when required, with some lovely solo contributions.

But attention is bound to be drawn to Lenton's vision of the piece with designer Kai Fischer, where the claustrophobic contemporary domestic setting opens up incrementally – door by door – with shards of mirror, cascades of glittering sand and sprouting floral plants until the whole structure splits, as the offstage brass blares from the Theatre Royal's boxes, to suggest a wider, but less familiar, world.

Lenton and Fischer deploy a much stripped-back version of their aesthetic on Paterson and Lenton's premiere The 8th Door, except in the use of video projection which here gives the audience the only view of the faces of silent performers, whose backs face the audience, as the text is sung by a sextet in the pit with the instrumentalists. This couple are sometimes in bed, but still four metres apart, while the camera that loves them makes their every emotion visible. Paterson's scoring – congas, celesta and all – is almost as rich as Bartok, and the partnership's choice of texts is quite inspired, culminating in the line: "No two stars are as far apart as two human souls", which sets the context perfectly for the ambiguity of the work that follows.