Escape into the World of Opera

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

A FORTY-minute hiatus due to a malfunctioning lighting board might have been a frustration for the audience at this end-of-term sequence of opera scenes by Masters of Performance students, but it must have rather been more stressful backstage, especially as Friday afternoon’s show – on which the musicians were being assessed by a panel of their teachers – was scheduled to be swiftly repeated at The Beacon in Greenock that evening.

Front of house, it was musical director Julia Lynch who filled the gap with an impromptu performance of anecdotes, jokes and a little Schubert, which was only a bonus for ticket-holders. Her piano accompaniment for the programme itself was, of course, superb, across music by Tchaikovsky, Massenet, Strauss, Mozart, Rossini, Britten and Barber, with the least familiar being the opening of Mark Adamo’s 1998 setting of Louisa May Alcott’s popular novel, Little Women.

Its obvious bias towards female roles reflected the overall balance of the programme, with a dozen of the 17 performers being women, including the addition of Nia Coleman, miming to the singing of an indisposed Charlotte McKechnie, seated by the pianist.

That quartet of March sisters in Little Women was only one aspect of a tantalising afternoon that gave glimpses of potential productions from the mind of guest director Nicolette Molnar. There were two scenes from Massenet’s Werther, with tenor Han Feng in the title role, and a very lively take on Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Anna Brady a tumbling Puck and inventive use of pillows. The relationship of the lovers there was mirrored by the two couples in a complete performance of Barber’s brief and witty A Hand of Bridge.

Elsewhere, it was often a programme of beginnings and endings, starting with the full 25 minutes of the opening of Eugene Onegin and with the second half including a modern dress version of Rossini’s La Cenerentola that made fine use of all the blokes as design details for Cinders and her nasty sisters to perform before.

With costuming devised by the students themselves, and acting that was always arresting, even when there were some slight lapses in musical expression and intonation, this cleverly-sequenced production was well worth the wait. Troupers all.