Classical review: Scottish Opera; Elephant Angel

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SCOTTIS Opera’s family opera The Elephant Angel reached Dundee last night, bringing almost to a close (there’s still an Aberdeen performance) a highly successful collaboration between Scottish Opera’s Connect Youth programme and primary children.

Venue: Gardyne Theatre, Dundee

Rating: * * * *

Review: Ken Walton

In Dundee, it was the turn of pupils from Eastern Primary School in Broughty Ferry, who have clearly taken the opera, by novelist Bernard MacLaverty and composer Gareth Williams, to heart in a way that shone unmistakably in a performance that was both endearing and quaintly entertaining.

Perhaps what makes it so appealing is that the story has its basis in fact – the tale of a zookeeper during the Belfast blitz who befriends Sheila the elephant, taking it home each night, and allowing the local children to help her look after it.

Thus the catchy street songs that weave their way through Williams’ atmospheric score, which the Dundee children related to and delivered with fresh and appealing energy.

And they had two real opera singers to interact with – Paul Keohone as the head zookeeper, wonderfully stoical and unsure how best to respond to the kindly altruism of Miss Austin, herself played and sung with innocent enchantment by soprano Miranda Sinani. Both had vivacious support from the Scottish Opera Connect singers.

This is opera made fresh, reminiscent of a range of children’s operas from Britten to Maxwell Davies, but given its own defining magnetism through music that blends a soft minimalist cocktail with lyricism. Williams conducted the small pit ensemble, and held the performance together splendidly.