Scottish Opera Sunday Series: Opera in Concert

Aleko & Francesca da Rimini

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Miranda Heggie, Four stars

A composer who is perhaps not best known for his operatic output, Sergei Rachmaninov actually wrote three short, one-act operas, two of which were heard in concert on Sunday. Aleko, based on Pushkin’s poem The Gypsies, was followed by what was the Scottish premiere of Francesca da Rimini, composed to a libretto by Tchaikovsky. Though both operas have similar grizzly endings - a woman being murdered by her jealous husband - both the stories and the music are distinctly different, from the dark, brooding harmonies of Aleko to the madly swirling chromaticism of Francesca da Rimini.

Set in a gypsy camp, Aleko revolves around the tale of Aleko and his wife Zemfira, who makes ill-fated plans to elope with a younger man. A wonderful cast of singers, soprano Ekaterina Goncharova communicated Zemfira’s story with an urgency, and Alexei Tanovitski as her father sang with a deliciously dark, deep tone.

The chorus were positioned at either end of the seats in the dress circle, which, coupled with the orchestra on the stage made for an immersive musical experience. There are echoes of Rachmaninov’s sacred choral writing at the end of the work. The chorus sang with a gravity and subdued passion as the gypsies declare that though they live without rules, they cannot live with a murderer.

Francesca da Rimini is an exciting and unusual piece, set in the second circle of hell. Baritone Evez Abdulla, who sang the previous work’s title role, here too portrayed a madly possessive husband as he sang with a fierce and direct strength. The orchestra were on excellent form under Stuart Stratford’s baton, as the strings created a frenzied vortex stunningly depicting hell’s relentless fire.