Navigate the Blood

Glasgow Distillery

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE LAST letter of the acronymic name of NOISE opera company is “events”, and there was no denying that this opening night lived up to that billing of a presentation of “new opera in Scotland”.

Having begun with a show in Glasgow’s Sloan’s bar in 2011, the aesthetic of the company directed by James Robert Carson has been to create original site-specific work with a clear story-line. This piece mostly revisits the partnership that created its second show, Hirda, in this case teaming composer Gareth Williams and librettist Sian Evans with six piece band Admiral Fallow in a domestic drama set against the backdrop of distilling in Scotland that tours to eight distilleries this month.

The scenic art mostly taken care of by the copper vessels, stainless steel piping and technology of the industry, the narrative draws parallels between the process that produces whisky and gin and the chemistry of life and love in a story of a respect for tradition, a lost son, a migrant worker and a mysterious stranger. Sometimes the construction of Evans’ story is little Lego-like, but the cast of four – Shuna Scott Sendall, Jamie MacDougall, Klaudia Korzeniewska and Seumas Begg – invest it with a sincerity in performance as well as meeting the challenges of a score that derives its strength from variety.

There are few individual arias in the ensemble piece, and the instrumental component has a string trio and piano alongside the band, with the vocals of Louis Abbott and Sarah Hayes adding crucial solo lines as well as being part of the ensemble chorus. The music is at its best when the work of Williams butts up against the writing of the band, and its weakest points are in some linking recitatives that seem more out of the music-theatre handbook. Of the vocal quartet, MacDougall covers the difference between the two sound-worlds with the greatest ease in the first act, while the band’s contribution is more sustained after the interval, with the techno-pulse of a song of the gin craze particularly memorable.

Requiring an onstage company of fifteen, this is the company’s boldest undertaking to date, with a tour schedule to match that ambition. It visits Oban, Campbeltown and Islay to Sunday, then goes on to Pitlochry, Aboyne, Edinburgh and Aviemore.