Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

ALL things considered – a dreich, blowy Tuesday evening, and a completely unknown work – Scottish Opera did well to attract the audience it did to the Usher Hall, and acoustically the venue was certainly required for the big performances it enjoyed.

The most notable of these was from soprano Emma Bell, who enjoys a stellar career in Germany and England but was making her Scottish Opera debut here in a role (Matilda) neither she nor anyone else has sung much before.

It is a bit of a mystery why Mascagni’s fourth opera is such a rarity. The music is certainly right up there with his better known work, and the story is the sort of timeless stuff that fuels TV soap operas to this day. Of course the tenor (Alexey Dolgov in the title role) gets the girl, but the difficulty is that the baritone (Renzo, sung by David Stout) has had her more recently, while Silvano was banged up for smuggling. Renzo plans to dispatch her true love, but she passes the blade to Silvano, who stabs his rival and then has to disappear to escape the consequences, leaving her on her lonesome.

The narrative is all there in the music, with some fine songs for the soloists (completed by Leah-Marian Jones as Silvano’s mum, Rosa, unconvinced of Matilda’s virtue, however remorseful she may seem to us), and for the chorus, just 19 women and 24 men effortlessly filling the hall.

And although it would have been better to see it fully staged - Roxana Haines’s direction here was simple and effective but left the principals a few long walks across the big stage – there was a real joy in seeing a big edition of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera, with 40 strings, producing this sort of music.

Helped by the powerful contributions of all the singers, conductor Stuart Stratford achieved a perfect balance on what turned out to be every bit the lost gem he claimed in his introduction. Perhaps Silvano-the-opera’s problem is that it hasn’t found a partner in the modern age the way Mascagni’s Cavelleria Rusticana, which is around the same length, teamed up with Pagliacci. And perhaps Stratford’s next concert opera presentation, at the Lammermuir Festival, might suggest a solution to that.