The Scottish Opera night at An Lanntair is A Big Deal. Tickets sell out way in advance for what is always one of the most popular nights in the arts centre’s calendar.
My first time seeing Scottish Opera in Stornoway was Macbeth in 2014 and it’s a night out of the ordinary from the moment you step into the bar. You can’t judge what music a person might like, or love, from looking at them, and I found myself squeaking “I didn’t know you liked opera!” several times to an assortment of work colleagues, neighbours and fellow mums who probably look as much like an opera fan as I do myself, which is not very much!
On that night, everyone seems out of context and to sparkle more than usual. For a moment, the humdrum of the everyday is suspended, as the music drapes itself over the shoulders of the audience like a glistening cloak of gossamer.
The last Scottish Opera night at the Lanntair was Mozart’s Così fan Tutte, with the Stornoway date coming very near the end of a two-month tour across Scotland. The whole experience — from the heavy hush of anticipation and the initial tinkles on the piano through to the last sustained note and the rapturous appreciation — was a delight.
This opera, written in 1790, was one of Mozart’s last works. It isn’t heavy opera; the kind that reaches into your guts, grabs hold and wrenches them from your body.
Instead, it is light and airy, beautiful and charming, stylishly retro and very witty and cheeky. It’s funny — and the comedy of the opera is probably helped by the fact it is sung in English, like The Magic Flute, so we don’t miss a beat.
Set in 1950s Naples, Così fan Tutte or The School for Lovers, tells the story of two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, who have just opened their own dressmakers’ shop and are dreaming away their days by planning their weddings to their adoring fiances, Guglielmo and Ferrando.
No reason for them not to all live happily ever after — unless you count a local mischief-maker, Don Alfonso, who believes all women are fickle and bets the sisters can be made to be unfaithful within 24 hours. He persuades Guglielmo and Ferrando to enter into this dodgy wager and what ensues is an elaborate dance of scheming, trickery and seduction.
Don Alfonso was super-slick and morally bankrupt — enjoyably awful, really, like all the best baddies — and was assisted in his ploys by the sisters’ shop assistant, Despina, a master of disguises who played the comic turn perfectly.
I won’t give away the ending but it left me feeling morally uneasy and a bit uncertain. That’s the plot, though. There was no uncertainty of the performance.
Scottish Opera’s touring of Così (directed by Lissa Lorenzo) is, in some ways, a slimline version, which demands a lot of those taking part. Special mention here of pianist Claire Haslin who was the entire musical accompaniment — an orchestra won’t exactly fit in a tour bus — and did an amazing job. The entire cast and crew, though, did amazingly well to keep going for so long and to stay fresh, preserving their voices by performing every other night.
By the time they got to Stornoway for the show on November 3, they had been on the road for seven weeks, playing 19 venues right across the country, and making it as far north as Kirkwall.
Scottish Opera’s Marketing Officer, Louise Sinclair, and Touring Manager, Caroline Campbell, were also on the tour and delighted with the reception they got in Stornoway.
Marketing Officer Louise said: “It’s great! The reaction you get from the audience makes it all worthwhile. We’ve had comments like ‘thank you so much for coming’. It’s amazing.”
They have both been struck by the number of opera masterminds in the Outer Hebrides, with Louise saying: “The people here really know their stuff. They are really knowledgeable about opera.”
Before I attended my first ‘Scottish Opera at An Lanntair’ night, I had imagined their performance would be a collection of best bits and highlights — a medley, if you like — rather than a complete, unabridged works. I was quite wrong.
“There is no dumbing down of opera (in our tours) because you live in a rural community,” stressed Louise, while Caroline spoke of the importance Scottish Opera places on its tour. “It’s hugely important,” she said. “It’s our raison d’etre. General Director Alex (Reedijk) is adamant that this is the most important thing.”
In a reference to Scottish Opera’s funding, she added: “He says that people in Stornoway or Orkney don’t pay any less taxes…”
This was underlined by Alex Reedijk in his opening words in the programme brochure, where he wrote: “Touring Scotland is fundamental to what Scottish Opera does — it is a vital component of the Company’s DNA… a big thank you to you, our audiences, for continuing to support opera across Scotland.”