Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

GUEST conductor Gianluca Marciano, an ebullient enthusiast for the work whose feet regularly left the podium in his dynamic direction of this performance, believes that Giacomo Puccini simply fell out of love with his second opera and gave up on promoting it.

For Sunday afternoon’s one-off revival with the orchestra on stellar form onstage, Scottish Opera assembled a top team to make the best case for it. Tenor Peter Auty was in superb voice in the title role and David Stout perfectly cast as his baritone foil, Frank. He is the brother of the saint-like Fidelia, sung by Claire Rutter, whose innocent love Edgar spurns in favour of the more seductive and available gypsy Tigrana – a cracker of a role for Lithuanian mezzo Justina Gringyte.

As Marciano also mischievously suggested, the work predates Puccini’s honed commercial nous, so the best tunes do not automatically go to the soprano and tenor, with the first big aria going to Stout, explaining Tigrana’s charms, and lots of fine music for a large chorus, augmented for the occasion by a dozen young female voice from the from the company’s youth wing.

It is packed with colourful dramatic scoring, the meaning of which is always crystal clear, but another reason for the unfamiliarity of Edgar may be the clunky libretto by Ferdinando Fontana. Early on, the chorus instructs Tigrana: “Stop your wicked singing”, a suggestion she fortunately ignores. Gringtye revelled in portraying this scheming and needy prize bitch in a staging by Roxana Haines that made the most of the concert performance limitations, requiring characters to be present for their symbolic value even when they were not necessarily singing, but also took them off into the wings when their presence was superfluous.

Perhaps the fake funeral and phoney Requiem Mass of Act 3 was also a problem for the acceptance of Edgar by its contemporary audience. The scrutiny of Edgar’s character that it produces certainly seems startlingly contemporary now, while the denouement has a very modern message of how women suffer for the failings of the men.