Opera Highlights

Howden Park Centre, Livingston

Keith Bruce

four stars

LIKE a TV Time-Lord, each successive incarnation Scottish Opera's annual tour of four singers and a piano to the village halls of the nation's rural hinterland becomes more sexy and sophisticated. The youthful founder of Shadwell Opera, Jack Furness, has upped the ante again with this sequence of 22 songs and arias, some well-known and some very obscure, linked – and to some extent chosen to fit – a loose narrative of love and jealousy in mid 20th century gangland New York.

Taken too literally, the director's structure is only a partial success. If you emerge from the evening knowing where, when and why the romance of Alfredo and Olga gives way to that of Phillipa and Antonio you were paying stricter attention than I managed. But that, and indeed the awkward props of a jigsaw of paintings of the Brooklyn Bridge, an icon of the Virgin Mary and a sign the cast flip between "Funeral" and "Flashback", ultimately matter little, because it is the music that matters most.

And Furness does have a splendid company of four young singers, all bar tenor Anthony Flaum making their company debut. He and soprano Filipa van Eck have the most commanding physical presence and the more dramatic voices, but mezzo Samantha Price and baritone Johnny Herford were the more consistently musically accurate and all four have real acting talent. After a ropey (opening night) Brindisi from Traviata, the quartet combined well and solo-ed with increasing confidence, the mix leading to a clever and easy-on-the-ear climax of Walton, Sullivan, Lehar and Copland.

Slotted in the middle of this, in parenthesis, was the premiere of composer-in-residence Lliam Paterson's very funny Anatomy of a Diva. It doesn't fit at all, but is well worth hearing in its own right.