WITH a building reputation for staging modern work, the successful Edinburgh Festival revival of Mark Anthony Turnage’s Greek and the latest collaboration between composer Stuart MacRae and librettist Louise Welsh, Anthropocene, among its recent successes, Scottish Opera today reveals a season that continues to team contemporary work with classics – the question being where the opera-lover draws any line dividing the two.

There can be little debate about the production that opens the company’s new season, however. Anthony Besch’s venerable Tosca, set in Mussolini’s fascist era and first seen in 1980, will be having its ninth outing. At one time sure to appear every three or four years, music director Stuart Stratford now thinks about a seven-year cycle for such well-loved works is about right. And he is particularly happy to have Natalya Romaniw as his Tosca.

“She is fast becoming one of the UK’s favourite lyric dramatic sopranos and this will be her role debut in a full production,” he says.

It is a production that is also regularly on loan to other houses across the world, so, as general director Alex Reedijk adds, the set will be having a careful refurbishment before Tosca opens again at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal in October.

A spanking new co-production, with Royal Danish Opera, of the modern classic Nixon in China by John Adams follows in February, and Scottish Opera will be hoping it has a measure of the longevity and export success of its Tosca.

Says Stratford: “It’s one of my favourite pieces. I remember seeing the famous Peter Sellars production at ENO with Airforce 1 landing onstage. John Adams is such an important composer, with such a bold choice of subject matter, starting with the facts but then with this huge fantasy in the later acts. It is a brilliant model, and of course all the protagonists were alive when it was written, which is amazing.”

This new production will by directed by John Fulljames and conducted by Joana Carniero, who has a close association with the composer. It has a stellar cast with Mark Le Brocq, from Anthropocene, as Mao and Eric Greene as Nixon.

Reedijk points out that the piece has not been done by any of the UK’s major companies in quite a long time, so the opportunity is there for this production to travel.

“We are currently enjoying a renaissance of people taking our productions, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this one has more of a life. In the last few months we’ve had our Boheme in Vancouver, Rosenkavalier in Oslo, Don Pasquale in Genoa, and Pelleas is probably going to LA.”

Opening at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre at the start of April next year, before coming to Glasgow later in the month is another new production, of a 20th century work by a composer with whom the company used to have the closest association back in the days when Besch’s Tosca was new.

Following the small-scale Burning Fiery Furnace at the Lammermuir Festival last year, Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Nigh’s Dream is the first main-stage Britten the company has presented in some time, Reedijk points out, with the artistic director of Glasgow Citizens Theatre Dominic Hill and Scottish Opera’s Stuart Stratford collaborating for the first time.

There is a Shakespearean theme to Hill’s work with the company, this Dream following his Falstaff and Macbeth, and again Stratford is delighted with his cast, which includes popular tenor and broadcaster Jamie MacDougall and recent Scottish Opera regular Jennifer France. “She has never sung Tytania before, although I remember her covering the role straight out of college at Opera North ten years ago.”

The production also has roles for two of the three new Emerging Artists named in the new season announcement. This year’s recruits, soprano Charlie Drummond and baritones Mark Nathan and Arthur Bruce, are all from the Alexander Gibson Opera School at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. “We are very fortunate that it is our local conservatoire,” Reedijk says simply.

They will also be seen in a new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, made in partnership with D’Oyly Carte Opera and State Opera South Australia, and following recent productions of the Pirates of Penzance and Mikado.

Like Tosca it will also visit Aberdeen and Inverness and, like Anthropocene, have a later run at London’s Hackney Empire.

As an added bonus, the production is coming teamed with a semi-staged version of the G&S rarity Utopia Ltd, which will play in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London in a new version created by Scottish Opera head of music Derek Clark, director Stuart Maunder and designer Dick Bird (who is also creating the sets for Nixon in China).

Reedijk describes their collaboration as “a more workable version for the 21st century, which sits nicely alongside the Gondoliers in terms of cast size.” The whole package goes to South Australia later next year.

There will be an added extra with A Midsummer Night’s Dream too. Composer-in-residence Samuel Bordoli is writing a short prequel, Hermia’s Dream, which makes use of the early scenes of the Shakespeare comedy that Britten did not include, and which will be staged in the foyer spaces in Edinburgh and Glasgow before the main production.

Those events sit alongside the series of operas in concert that Stratford has curated in bringing the number of titles the company is presenting in its new season up to 14.

With Mascagni’s Silvano at Glasgow’s City Halls this Sunday and the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on Tuesday, Stratford is still not done with the composer whose work he has championed since he arrived.

At the Lammermuir Festival this September, the company has a double bill of two two-handlers, teaming Mascagni’s Zanetto with Wolf-Ferrari’s contemporary Susanna’s Secret. In May 2020, the Usher Hall will hear the composer’s best-known work, Cavelleria Rusticana, performed alongside the Leoncavallo rarity Zingari rather than its more usual partner Pagliacci.

In December of this year, Stratford conducts a concert performance of the work he conducted at London’s Holland Park summer season, Mascagni’s Iris.

“I’m a huge fan of that piece. It was at one point the most popular Mascagni piece but fell out of favour because of its subject matter. There is no denying distasteful nature of it in many ways, but the music is sublime, although the most despicable characters get the most alluring music and that can be uncomfortable.”

Before all of that comes the Edinburgh Festival premiere of Breaking the Waves, created in partnership with Opera Ventures, who were co-producers of Greek, and directed by Tom Morris of Bristol Old Vic, who made the acclaimed version of John Adams’s Death of Klinghoffer at English National Opera.

Missy Mazzoli’s version of the Lars Von Trier film was, in Reedijk’s words, “the talk of the steamie” when it opened in Philadelphia in 2016 and this will be its first production since, with Houston Grand Opera also on board, where it will be seen in 2021. And, of course, the story is set in Scotland.

Stratford says of the composer: “She’s someone who has a very distinctive voice, but not dissimilar to John Adams in some ways. He is certainly one of her influences, so that connects it nicely with our season. The piece is very melodic but with incredible rhythmic drive and astute pacing in the allocation of musical and dramatic time.”

Reedijk has an eye on that production also enjoying a longer life, requiring an orchestra of 27 and chorus of just 12. “The whole thing is quite portable, so we hope it will turn up in other places too. There is something about the quality of the piece and the relatively modest resources required that should make it potentially appeal to other festivals.”

It is striking that titles from the late 20th century and start of the 21st century are now so firmly part of the Scottish Opera canon.

Stratford agrees. “MacRae, Adams, Mazzoli, Dove and Turnage are all very different stylistically, but all are relatively new pieces and it now doesn’t feel odd saying this. It shows how we have to do the classic repertoire, but we also have to keep uncovering new pieces.”

Reedijk goes further: “New work is becoming the new normal. We are getting better at consuming it and understanding it.”

For the moment, he is unwilling to extend the runs of such works, preferring to see full houses for fewer performances, but he concedes it is something the company has to keep under review.

“We do spend a lot of time tackling the question of how many people will come to performances. We know that a new piece will thrive on two performances in each city, and the gain in doing a third performance is hard to gauge. But the more it becomes normal to do newer repertoire, the more we’ll have to look at that.”