First published in the Guardian on 25 October, 2016
Mascagni’s first opera was the mega hit Cavalleria Rusticana and he spent the rest of his life trying to live up to it. His second effort, L’amico Fritz, is as pastel and sweet as Cav is blood-red and fiery; it’s flimsy, dated, occasionally gorgeous, mainly unmemorable. Given Scottish Opera’s thin provision it is debatable whether a diaphanous Mascagni romcom should be top priority here, but the company’s new-ish music director Stuart Stratford is mad for the composer (he held the score aloft as he took his bow) and has promised to bring us more Mascagni every season.
This was also the first of the year’s Sunday afternoon concert performances that put the Scottish Opera orchestra on stage with an ‘acoustic shell’ around it to prevent the sound from disappearing into the wings. Stratford was duly decent with the score — he knows how to aerate Mascagni’s music, how to make the phrases bubble and wink — but the orchestra has been maligned for many years and it showed in lacklustre strings, winds that didn’t really blend, tepid gypsy pastiches that should have sounded red-hot. Amy Turner’s oboe solos stood out for their warm charisma. Of the singers, Hanna Hip’s bit-part Beppe was the most convincing performance, coquettish and smirking; Natalya Romaniw’s Suzel (demure peasant girl) was poised and placid; Peter Auty’s Fritz (eligible bachelor landowner) was a husky, shouty tenor, exuding a clenched-fist sort of ardour.