Opera Highlights 

Linlithgow Academy 

three stars 

SOPRANO Zoe Drummond, who is Australian, and Welsh tenor Osian Wyn Bowen are the two current members of Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists programme in the new incarnation of the piano-accompanied Opera Highlights tour that has already been as far as Yell in the Shetland Isles. 

They have a lovely melodic duet in a “I know of a lovely girl” from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride in the sequence of lighter music that characteristically concludes the evening, when the Welsh tenor also delivers a solo highlight with an aria from Offenbach’s rarely heard Robinson Crusoe. 

While both of those are in English, the pair also sing in German and Italian, and have solos in French by Lalo and Gounod that suit their voices well, while Drummond has another first half showpiece in Russian as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snow Maiden. 

Australian/Cypriot mezzo Shakira Tsindos is initially less well-served by earlier music from Handel and Gluck that does not play to her vocal strengths. The 1970s-themed costuming of the cast dressed her in mauve velour trousers, demin waistcoat and rainbow-hooped socks, which also fails to match the Gothic quality of her music.  

She sounds much more comfortable in the drama of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia later on. 

Completing the quartet is Scots baritone Christopher Nairne, and he and Wyn Bowen bring the first half of the programme to a fine finish with the perennial hit duet “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s The Pearlfishers.  

HeraldScotland: Fraser Band Fraser Band (Image: Fraser Band)

He also has the central role in the new commission from composer Toby Hession that opens the second half, entitled Told by an Idiot and inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. 

Director Emma Jenkins, who also wrote that piece’s libretto, has not imposed any narrative concept on her Opera Highlights, and that serves this premiere better than has often been the case with those recent additions to the package.  

A pocket-sized Play for Today-style tilt at the tragedy, a possible nod to Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party may well have prompted those costumes, but either way it is a highlight of the whole night, and is suitably followed by Wyn Bowen singing Macduff’s aria from Verdi’s version of the same tale. 

It is the tenor who also demonstrates the highest degree of skill in chalk drawing on the blackboard surfaces of the modular set design by Janis Hart that the cast execute to illustrate the music.  

Although this device has its moments later on (notably in Drummond’s silent appearance as the love object of the Pearlfishers’ duet) it is distractingly fussy at the start – these four fine singers are given plenty to do in this Highlights, but not enough singing together as an ensemble. 

Touring to October 29 and in Yetholm on Tuesday, Stranraer on Thursday and Castle Douglas on Saturday.