THERE is possibly only so much of the change that can be laid directly at his door, but it does seem that Scottish Opera is in a much more comfortable state since music director Stuart Stratford took up his post. The 2018-19 season that he and chief executive Alex Reedijk announced this week is not, truth to tell, full of ground-breaking surprises or even incremental growth, but it does look like the programme of an organisation happier in its skin than has historically been the case. Not wishing to tempt fate, but it is a good while now since The Herald has had an audience with a Scottish culture minister about a crisis at Scottish Opera, and those were once a staple of this organ’s news pages.

It would have required a considerable, and unlikely, injection of funds for the new season to exceed the current one that winds up with Oliver Mears’ new production of Eugene Onegin at the end of the month. In partnership with the Edinburgh Festival and in co-production with other houses, it has included an embarrassment of riches in the new main house productions of Greek, Pelleas et Melisande, Flight and Ariadne auf Naxos. After Onegin there is still the innovation of a promenade Pagliacci in Paisley to come in July, which was announced last year but features in the new season publicity as well. 2018-19 has just two new main house productions in Janacek’s Katya Kabanova by estimable director Stephen Lawless and the latest work by composer Stuart MacRae and librettist Louise Welsh, Anthropocene, alongside revivals of recent stagings of Rigoletto and The Magic Flute. But it would be foolish not to recognise the cyclical nature of programming and partnerships. Expect Scottish Opera to be back at the Edinburgh Festival in 2019, and look forward to the relationships it has recently established with other producing houses bearing further fruit. Look out also for news of recent Scottish Opera successes travelling on to other venues around the globe.

If a year of consolidation also includes the company taking the opera-in-concert programme that has developed exponentially under Stratford beyond its home theatre, as well as taking time to consider how the company might return to some of the other Scottish towns where it was once a more regular presence, then those developments should be acknowledged.

But there is more to it than that. After the loss of its permanent chorus and reduction in the contract of its orchestral players, the atmosphere at Scotland’s national opera company was, understandably, not a happy one. Although it would be a fine thing for the company to have a full-time orchestra and chorus again, that traumatic period does now appear to be water under the bridge. There is more of a family atmosphere, one where it is noticeable – especially to audiences – that artists are building long-term relationships with the company and talent is being nurtured. Something of that is surely behind the rebranding of work with young people as the Scottish Opera Young Company, rather than the more arm’s-length “Connect”, although that word works perfectly well as it is used by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for its

long-established and successful outreach work.

It is also there in casting, an art in opera that has become increasingly demanding as ticket-buyers (and critics) are less willing to overlook acting weaknesses if a voice is glorious, or vice versa. Performers with the full range of skills (including Jennifer France, Stephen Gadd and Alex Otterburn) have become personalities to whom

opera-lovers in Scotland can relate. Off-stage too, the company has built relationships with a coterie of creative people, some of whose association with opera-making began in the Five: 15 initiative more than a decade ago.

None of this will ever make staging operas anything other than an expensive business, but having an infrastructure that now looks to be developing in organic ways in a convivial atmosphere, rather than being cut amid acrimony to meet the limitations of a static budget, is a significant turnaround.