A KIND of warped, folk-tinged Tristan And Isolde for the far north of Scotland, Hirda from New Opera in Scotland Events (NOISE for short) arrived at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall for its mainland premiere after a first performance and four-stop tour in Shetland.
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
And this brand new opera feels like it’s got true Shetland blood pulsing fiercely through its veins – it’s set there, with a libretto (by Welsh dramatist Siân Evans) in Shetlandic Scots, and it’s co-composed by Shetland fiddler Chris Stout, who supplies more than a few bright, ringing solos, and whose distinctive melodic turns bring a raw-edged folksiness to the luminous, minimalist-inspired ensemble music by Northern Irish co-composer Gareth Williams.
It’s only NOISE’s second production, and it’s a bold, confident statement, a tale of a Shetland-born Hollywood star who returns home to the island and (unwittingly?) seduces his brother’s wife.
The striking, vivid production by NOISE artistic director James Robert Carson made effective use of the Queen’s Hall’s expansive interior, and performances were strong all round – especially intense lyric tenor Andrew Dickinson as the betrayed Iain, and a feisty Shuna Scott Sendall as the two men’s no-nonsense sister Elsa.
The work’s true glory, though, is Stout and Williams’s soaring, heartstring-pulling music, enormously powerful in conveying the opera’s intense emotions. Balance was a problem, though: it was a shame that the eager instrumental ensemble, directed by an energetic Williams, simply drowned out the singers a lot of the time, so that it made little difference whether they were singing in Shetlandic or not.