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Opera review: St Kilda

ST KILDA: ISLAND OF THE BIRDMEN EDINBURGH FESTIVAL THEATRE

ST KILDA… celebrates a unique way of life that existed on Scotland's most westerly island for thousands of years before it succumbed to the drastic erosion of its population in the 1930s and government-driven evacuation. To most of us, it is a near-mythical place, out of reach of contemporary human contamination, where birds scream ghostlike references to the people who once thrived on harvesting their eggs.

So how does this opera – originally staged in 2007 on the Isle of Lewis as a pan-European co-creation, and re-staged here by the French-Belgian-Gaelic constituents – succeed in conveying the inevitable 20th century human exodus from St Kilda? And can it truly be described as an opera?

To answer the latter question first, it is opera in a very modern and creative sense. Besides music that fuses the haunting freshness of Gaelic song (stunningly sung by an amplified Alyth McCormack) with an atmospheric contemporary classical underlay, and a fluid staging that tosses the drama into the side boxes and orchestra pit, the interaction of archive and modern film (projected on two giant screens) and swooping acrobats, it is – as the story gradually gathers impact – a beautifully indulgent assault on all the senses.

As to its emotive impact, many of intricate nuances (particularly the politics) in Iain Finlay Macleod's tri-lingual text are possibly lost to those who do not have the Gaelic, and whose French is rusty. Even some subtitled allusions to the content of the traditional songs would have filled in the elusive detail.

But this is an exquisitely choreographed production that essentially speaks for itself, not just in terms of physical movement, but also in the evocative interweaving of the various media strands.

Director Thierry Poquet and his team create an alluring elasticity in the multi-dimensional telling of the tale. Jean-Paul Dessy – one of the two composers involved (the other is David P Graham) – moulds the various musical strands with pinpoint precision.

It is living proof that an opera can be successfully designed by committee – the ultimate Gesamtkunstwerk, if you like. But what would Wagner, the ultimate control freak, have said?

Until tonight, 8pm.

 
 
 

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EDINBURGH
FESTIVALS
2014

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