Lammermuir Festival

Scottish Opera Double-Bill

St Mary’s Church, Haddington

Keith Bruce

four stars

JAMES Waters, co-director of the Lammermuir Festival, has contended that vocal music sells less well than the instrumental variety, but that theory took a hefty knock with the well-filled houses for the festival’s Friday programme.

In Prestonkirk Church at East Linton, baritone Roderick Williams concluded his three-recital debuting of Jeremy Sams’s new translations of Schubert lieder with pianist Christopher Glynn. Although Schwanengesang lacks the coherence of the others, as Swansong, these stories were revealed in a bright new light, with perhaps only Doppelgänger lacking the sinister edge of Heine’s original German.

Sung in Italian, with surtitles, but just as unfamiliar, were Mascagni’s Zanetto (a first performance in Scotland according to Scottish Opera) and Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s Susanna’s Secret, which the company last performed 40 years ago (including a television broadcast, somewhat incredibly).

Rosie Purdie’s staging of these chamber works, stylishly costumed as if happening little more than half a century back, made the most of two rather slight tales. The comedic Susanna’s Secret has a young newly-wed Countess (Clare Presland) hiding her smoking habit from her suspicious husband (Richard Burkhard), who assumes the odour of tobacco is evidence of a visit from her secret lover. It would now seem a dated premise set in any era, but the silent presence of lanky servant Sante (Piran Legg) helped the humour along, and the rich orchestration was given a vigorous performance by the large orchestra under conductor David Parry.

The high quality of the vocal work in that piece had been matched by the perfect casting of Sinead Campbell-Wallace and Hanna Hipp in the Mascagni, with the instrumental score and stellar singing the reasons for rediscovering an even slighter work plot-wise.

The title role here became a beat-era troubadour (Hipp) and the tormented Silvia a high society beauty whose troubled romantic back-story makes it impossible for her to trust her own attraction to the young man. That psychological dimension to the work arguably linked it to its partner in this double-bill, but - unlike the English versions of Schubert - neither really made a compelling case for further performances.