Dir. Orpha Phelan, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, 01/02/19
When I think of opera, I imagine either one opulent story of love, drama, and hardship, or – on rarer occasions – a concert performance featuring the biggest hits of several operas that will keep you humming along. This evening of the National Opera Studio was neither, and yet it had me captivated and moved in quite unexpected ways. It was an evening of contrasts that worked incredibly well.
Those opposites already start when looking at the setting. The King’s theatre matches the image of an old, luxurious theatre with its boxes and balconies, an assembly of decorations and velvet curtains; it essentially oozes culture. The simple white stage only adorned by ropes creates a nice, if stark, contrast to that. The same goes for the singers’ black outfits, and again their use of only ropes as props, to tie together the different pieces of music.
While opera is usually associated with big arias spotlighting one star, this performance celebrates group pieces like duets, trios and quartets and with them an ensemble of young talents. You can clearly see that harmony and tension are the central elements. The beautiful voices and effective acting choices accentuate the music wonderfully. The audience chuckles at appropriate moments and is almost moved to tears at others, which shows how well the performances work.
The music ranges from baroque compositions of the earlier 1700s to fairly recent pieces created in the 1940s. Accordingly, the melodies are sometimes harmonious, illustrating love and unity, other times counterintuitive, accentuating the inner conflict of the characters. Among the featured composers are household names of the opera scene like Mozart, Bizet, and Rossini, while others like Beethoven or Händel are only performed on rare occasions. The overarching theme might be love, but the variety of pieces shows the different forms this sentiment can take, from deep passion to despair, from flirtation to jealousy. Luckily, the singers master all these changes beautifully.
If this evening gives any indication, it will surely be interesting to see and hear what all these young talents will do in the future.