Interview: Alex Reedijk on Scottish Opera’s 2014-15 season

First published in The Herald on 14 May, 2014

Scottish Opera announced its 2014-15 season today, safe in the knowledge that the new programme is a step up from its widely-maligned ’13-14 offering. The figures aren’t hard to compare. There are more mainstage operas – five rather than three – and a better range of repertoire, from mid-18th century to late-20th century. One of the works was originally a major Scottish Opera commission. Another plays to the company’s strength as a Janacek house.

Speaking to The Herald last week, Scottish Opera’s general director Alex Reedijk called the new season “a really good mix of work”. He said that “judicious budgeting and opportunism” had allowed him to increase the number of productions; that, and teaming up with other European companies for co-productions. “It feels like a really meaty season,” he said. “Full of proper, intensely dramatic pieces.”

Scottish Opera’s output continues to look deficient when compared with equivalent companies south of the border, however. Opera North and Welsh National Opera both offer nine mainstage productions next season, plus a wide range of small-scale performances and educational work. Scottish Opera remains artistically rudderless as it searches for a music director to replace Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, who last year walked out after five weeks in the job. And while next year’s range of repertoire might improve on the current season, Reedijk readily admits that – under his watch, at least – Scottish Opera will not dare to take the kind of creative risks that can make the artform truly exciting.

Speaking about the new production of La cenerentola, directed by Sandrine Anglade and co-produced with Strasbourg’s Opéra national du Rhin, Reedijk explained that “what I was drawn to in this production was a European aesthetic – less of the UK theatrical tradition, more a journey of the imagination.” When asked whether the production amounts to Regietheater (conceptual, director-led opera) he replied: “it’s nowhere near Regietheater, don’t worry. I like my Regietheater with the lightest of touches. […] Regietheater belongs in a context where the audience has a whole bunch of choices. For example, a typical German house has a richness you can feast on. Whereas I’m conscious that for a Scottish audience there’s not as much on offer as there is further south.” The implication here is alarming: that because Scottish audiences have only sporadic access to opera, Scottish Opera should always play it safe.

With Janacek’s Jenufa, the company returns to a composer for whom it has done great things in the past. The director of this new co-production with Danish National Opera is Annilese Miskimmon, who created a strong touring version of La traviata for Scottish Opera in 2012. “She’s very decent, very clever,” said Reedijk. “And at the risk of being sexist, Jenufa is very much a woman’s story. You don’t need a female director to tell a woman’s story, of course. But if you’ve got an incredibly clever female director, why would you not ask her to think about this story?”

Explaining his decision to include Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in the new season, Reedijk said that “we haven’t done any very early music for a long time” – a surprising statement given that the company staged Handel’s Orlando (1733) in 2011, and that Gluck’s opera (1762) was premiered a good 150 years after the birth of artform. The new production will be directed by Ashley Page, former director of Scottish Ballet, and features Caitlin Hulcup as Orfeo; Reedijk said that the company is using a mezzo-soprano rather than a countertenor for the role because of “public taste and common sense”.

James MacMillan’s first full-length opera Inès de Castro, commissioned by Scottish Opera in 1996, will be staged in a new production directed by Olivia Fuchs with a freshly-edited score conducted by the composer. “It will be interesting both with capital I and small i,” Reedijk said. “Interesting to see how Jimmy approaches the work, and interesting for audiences to experience the work afresh.” The main season closes with a revival of Verdi’s Il trovatore in Peter Watson’s 2001 production, with the superb English soprano Claire Rutter in the title role.

The company also takes Dominic Hill’s chamber Macbeth on the road around Scotland; there’s the usual opera highlights tour, a new Christmas family show by Gareth Williams and a series of concert recitals to mark the 200th anniversary of Scott’s Waverley. For the second year running there will be no joint venture with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, though Reedijk suggested that the collaboration will be re-established in future seasons. “I don’t want to predetermine what Jeffrey Sharky wants,” he said, referring to the RCS’s incoming principal, “but the will is hell-of-alive from our side.”

On the subject of Thomas Allen’s appointment as interim ‘music adviser’ last month, Reedijk said: “we are currently recruiting for a new music director, and these things take more than five minutes. I was conscious that we needed a person who could be a source of musical advice. Someone to whom we could say, ‘hey, have you heard of this singer – what do you think?’”

Meanwhile the search for a music director is going well, Reedijk said. When asked about the company’s statement (issued before Christmas) that it was considering 90 applicants for the position, he replied: “there were over 90 names who had come to our attention. We did solicit some people to see if they were interested, but a lot of it was people going ‘hey, hey, give us the job’.” Explaining how he whittled down the list, Reedijk said: “as you would with any job. You go back to the job description. It’s not about any of the fluffy stuff. It’s ‘have they ever worked in an opera company? Do they know anything about opera?’”

“The thing that matters most to me is that we find an amazing musician. Someone who brings life, curiosity, drive, passion and all those other adjectives to their work. As long as they’re a half-decent human being, the rest of it will all fall into place. That’s why it takes more than five minutes to find someone.” He suggested that the company “might have a clearer position” by the end of the calender year.

2014-15: the mainstage productions

  • Rossini’s La Cenerentola (new co-production). Directed by Sandrine Anglade; conducted by William Lacey; featuring Victoria Yarovaya and Nico Darmanin. October-November 2014
  • MacMillan’s Inès de Castro (new production). Directed by Olivia Fuchs; conducted by James MacMillan; featuring Stephanie Corley and Peter Wedd. January 2015
  • Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (new production). Directed by Ashley Page; conducted by Kenneth Montgomery; featuring Caitlin Hulcup and Lucy Hall. February-March 2015
  • Janacek’s Jenufa (new co-production). Directed by Annilese Miskimmon; conducted by Stuart Stratford; featuring Lee Bisset and Peter Wedd. April 2015
  • Verdi’s Il trovatore (revival). Directed by Peter Watson; conducted by Tobias Ringborg; featuring Claire Rutter and Gwyn Hughes Jones. May-June 2015