Opera Highlights

Howden Park Centre, Livingston

Keith Bruce, four stars

BEWARE in Braemar and Ballachulish, because undead heroes and heroines from Monteverdi to Bernstein are stalking the performances spaces of the land from the Borders to the Shetlands.

Ostensibly it has become a nonsense that the annual Scottish Opera tour trades under such a bland catch-all title, because the quartet of young singers now enact a fully-conceived production, scripted here by director Jack Furness and including interlude music and a whole ensemble scene by the current composer-in-residence, Samuel Bordoli. Perhaps, however, someone at Scottish Opera appreciated the irony in the “Opera Highlights” label for a narrative of dark emotions, backstage rivalry, and characters who leech ruthlessly off the talents of others.

We begin at the end, with a curtain call for M. Butterfly and Rossini’s Figaro the techie clearing the stage. Baritone Benjamin Lewis (as Brian) may eventually succumb to the dark side but he battles the vampiric Petrach (tenor William Morgan) and Sophia (soprano Maire Flavin) for as long as he can, even as his colleague Henrietta (mezzo Catherine Backhouse) is seduced by the lure of the spotlight.

After miming to Flavin’s Fiordiligi from the wings, she gets her big break in a trouser role as Nero when a counter-tenor goes AWOL, and has a steamy clinch with Poppea, while the two chaps (now Bizet’s Pearlfishers) fight for her.

All these knowing charades are staged in the spirit of Frayn’s Noises Off, with a touch of Coward’s Private Lives in the mix, and it is perhaps a little too clever by half. Bordoli’s piece, Wings, whose title refers to those of the theatre, of desire and the un-sung Fledermaus on the cover of the programme, attempts to clarify matters at the start of part two, but if you remain confused, worry not. The narrative is in the tone and melody of the arias as much as in the script, and there are plenty of favourites to enjoy. Flavin gloriously excepted, there were some first night glitches in Livingston (and perhaps the current plague of respiratory infections meant voices not at their peak), but all came good (if triumphantly bad and dangerous to know) by the end.