Opera review: Scottish Opera - Inés De Castro

Stephanie Corley as In�s and Paul Carey Jones as the vile Pacheco. Picture: Contributed
Stephanie Corley as In�s and Paul Carey Jones as the vile Pacheco. Picture: Contributed
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FOR those familiar with James MacMillan’s hard-hitting opera Inés de Castro from its original 1996 Scottish Opera production, this revised version must seem a lot slicker. MacMillan has excised one major retrospective scene and tweaked a lot more.

Scottish Opera: Inés De Castro

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Star rating: ***

Its structural proportions are now tighter; the narrative unfolds with greater compulsion.

Which is just what’s needed for a true-life tale so grim, gruesome and intrigue-driven. Inés is the Spanish mistress of Pedro, a Portuguese prince. But both countries are at war, creating a suspicious environment where evil emerges in its vilest form. Acts of torture, infanticide and the final grotesque exhumation and crowning of Inés’ corpse are the dark repulsive canvas through which an ill-fated love story is painfully woven.

Olivia Fuchs’ brand new production, together with Kai Fischer’s spare grey set and allusive video projections, tilt the balance towards the softer feminine issues, so that Stephanie Corley’s passionate Inés and Susannah Glanville’s unnerving Blanca are more than mere two-dimensional pawns. The real victims are the male perpetrators – Peter Wedd’s anguished Pedro, Brindley Sherratt’s stentorian King, Paul Carey Jones’s vile and vituperative Pacheco, and the whim-driven chorus of ordinary people.

MacMillan’s music, which he conducts, remains the powerhouse of the opera. At its core, a fulminating tapestry of shifting orchestral colours goes deeper, in the true Wagnerian sense, than mere underscore. There are momentous high points – the climactic Verdian conclusion to Act 1, a heart-stopping love duet between Inés and Pedro, and the magical “Wozzeck”-like ending with innocent child.

Great music, but the production needs time to bed in. A few too many technical glitches occurred on Thursday – mistimed lighting and curtains, and amplified feedback – and Act 2’s dramatic mood switches simply weren’t electrifying enough. With only three other performances scheduled, the opportunity to sort these out is limited.

KEN WALTON

Seen on 22.01.15

• Theatre Royal, Glasgow, tonight; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 29 & 31 January