Opera Highlights

Motherwell Theatre

Keith Bruce

four stars

SOMETHING quite special can happen when the familiar ingredients of Scottish Opera’s perennial four-singers-and-a-piano tour to the smallest and most remote venues the company ever reaches really gel, and on its first performance this new variation on the recipe already looks like being one not to miss.

There are enough familiar hits – Mozart from The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutte and The Magic Flute, Lensky’s big number from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and a show-stopping Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes – to justify the catch-all title, but director Roxana Haines and her company have made the conceit of adding their own layer of narrative to the many other stories in the music work with real panache. Head of Music Derek Clark’s selection of broadly garden-set songs sees Mollie, Sophie, Jason and Andrew mucking in to set up a party in the absence of their host, and this quartet’s inter-personal relationships rivals, comments on, and pokes fun at the plots of the musical hinterland the show celebrates.

From the start soprano Charlie Drummond and mezzo Martha Jones reveal themselves to be skilled comic actors as well as very fine singers. Their double act - Drummond revelling in the elements of pastiche and Jones bringing a lithe physicality and expressive physiognomy - drives the show, while tenor Alex Bevan and baritone Mark Nathan are more often the butt of the jokes, the latter all shallow swagger and Bevan master of the double-take.

While the quartet prove themselves adept in Italian and French, much of the show – and all of the really unfamiliar music – is sung in English, including the whole of the second half. That begins with the slight sidestep into contemporary madrigal that is Samuel Bordoli’s commission for the tour, a fine setting of Arthur Golding’s English Renaissance translation of Ovid that serves to set up the linguistic territory, before wandering down some rarely explored paths in Victorian and 20th century British music, alongside some very well-known tunes.

It might be genuinely very funny and often surprisingly moving, but this clever production also becomes a fine example of light music being taken seriously, as it deserves.

In Stirling tomorrow, Stonehaven on Tuesday and touring to October 19.