First published in The Herald on 20 May, 2015
“We are a triumvirate!” chuckles Sir Thomas Allen, gesturing around an airy meeting room off the Theatre Royal’s new foyer. And indeed they are three: to the left of Allen sits conductor Stuart Stratford, Scottish Opera’s newly appointed Music Director, and to his right is Alex Reedijk, the company’s General Director, who indicates the corporate-looking board table and jokes that they are like a panel interviewing me for a job.
In fact we’re here to discuss Scottish Opera’s next season, details of which were announced today, and at the company’s insistence the interview has taken the form of a triple-header. All choices of repertoire, cast and conductors in the 2015-16 brochure have been “very much a group effort,” Reedijk emphasises. “There is not a Karajan figure above all of us who dictates what happens,” Allen adds. “It has been an entirely friendly and democratic process.” Those who have followed Scottish Opera politics in recent months and years won’t be surprised that the company is keen to project an image of collective and open decision making.
Allen, one of the UK’s great baritones and latterly an opera director who has crafted some handsome if conservative productions for Scottish Opera, joined the company as its ‘music adviser’ after the last music director Emmanuel Joel-Hornak walked out on unspecified bad terms just five weeks into the job. Stratford’s appointment was made a month ago so he will have had little or no role in shaping the next season, but around the board table he is assertive and forthcoming with future repertoire suggestions. “Stuart will have a really big part to play in these conversations,” says Reedijk, “and I suspect that in time we will cater to his musical identity.” Meanwhile Allen will remain in position until further notice, with a company source explaining: “we have really enjoyed working closely with Tom, and as Stuart begins to settle in and is able to spend more time in Scotland, the company’s demand on Tom’s time will lessen.”
The new season looks fairly typical of the company in recent years. There are five mainstage operas, including Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado co-produced by D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and a new work by composer Stuart Macrae and writer Louise Welsh, co-commissioned by Music Theatre Wales. The remaining titles are Bizet’s Carmen, Handel’s Ariodante and Dvorak’s Rusalka, the latter two of which are company firsts, and a pocket-sized Cosi fan tutte that tours Scotland with piano accompaniment in the autumn.
Once again, Reedijk summarises the thrust of the season as ‘strong storytelling’. “Getting together the best storytellers, the best music-makers, that’s what we do,” he says. “A great example was the Pirates of Penzance we presented a couple of years ago.” In terms of casting, the biggest names are Anne Sophie Duprels and Sir Willard White as Rusalka and her father in Dvorak’s opera. Allen says he has enjoyed using his personal contacts to promote “those at the beginning of a career, or those barely having a career yet”; one name to watch is the young Lithuanian mezzo singing Carmen, Justina Gringyte, who happens to be premiering the role at English National Opera tonight. Reedijk looks notably chuffed as he points out that it was Scottish Opera who booked her first.
The handful of Scottish singers in the mix include Nadine Livingston and Andrew McTaggart as Micaëla and Morales in Carmen; both are former Scottish Opera Emerging Artists. At his inaugural company press conference last month, Stratford suggested he was keen to showcase Scotland’s internationally acclaimed talent — the names Karen Cargill and Iain Paterson were discussed — but today he and Reedijk both look more sceptical about what they call ‘positive discrimination’ in casting. Reedijk says he is “relaxed” on the issue of employing Scottish voices. “I would say we do one thing well, which is to take the best singers available to us. There’s no positive or negative discrimination.”
For the third year running there is no co-production with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, formerly an annual event that gave an important platform to student singers and production crew and a colourful season bonus to audiences. Reedijk describes the RCS as “going through a period of transition at the moment. Jeff [Sharkey, the new RCS Principal] is trying to decide what kind of institution the RCS is going to be. Our door is wide open; I think the co-production will be back. Watch this space.”
The new opera by MacRae and Welsh, The Devil Inside, is the culmination of a partnership launched with 2009’s Remembrance Day and continued with 2012’s Ghost Patrol. “I think Stuart has a really strong theatrical thread running through his music,” says Reedijk, “but it’s something about the way he came together with Louise that created a really visceral, masculine night at the opera.” Clarifying his use of the term ‘masculine’ in relation to Ghost Patrol, Reedijk says the piece “dealt with tough, boys’ stuff”.
For anyone who feels Scotland doesn’t have a rich enough diet of core operatic repertoire, the prospect of another G&S will likely raise eyebrows; The Mikado comes off the heels of 2013’s Pirates and the concert performance of HMS Pinafore marking Scottish Opera’s return to EIF this summer. “It can only be an abundance of riches,” Reedijk laughs, but he does reveal that The Mikado was in the company’s plans “for some time” before the call came from EIF to present Pinafore.
With its £14.5 million foyer extension now operational, Scottish Opera is keen to keep the Theatre Royal busy and will shift its occasional orchestral concerts from St Andrew’s in the Square to the Theatre Royal’s auditorium. Reedijk pulls out his phone to show me a photograph of an ‘acoustic shell’ recently constructed to fit the stage and designed to project the sound away from the wings. Stratford says the move will expand the repertoire explored by the orchestra, “both with and without singers”, and suggests the increased profile will help boost morale among players. “It’s good for the orchestra to come out of the pit, to listen to each other,” he says. “Morale comes from good music making; that’s where it starts. The better we can feel about the orchestra, the healthier it’ll be for the company as a whole.” Details of the orchestral concerts will be announced on September 1.
Scottish Opera: the 2015-16 mainstage season
Carmen. Revival of the Caurier/Leiser production; David Parry conducts. October-November in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh
The Devil Inside. New production directed by Matthew Richardson; Michael Rafferty conducts. January in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Ariodante. New production directed by Harry Fehr; Nicholas Kraemer conducts. February in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Rusalka. Grange Park Opera production directed by Anthony McDonald; Stuart Stratford conducts. April in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The Mikado. New production directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans; Derek Clark & David Steadman conduct. May-June in Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Belfast.