Opera review: Scottish Opera: Candide, New Rotterdam Wharf, Glasgow

Referencing the supercharged mania of Reality TV and social media, Jack Furness and Scottish Opera have created a hard-hitting, all-action version of Voltaire’s Candide, writes Ken Walton

Rehearsals for Scottish Opera's new production of Candide PIC: Julie Howden / Scottish Opera
Rehearsals for Scottish Opera's new production of Candide PIC: Julie Howden / Scottish Opera

Scottish Opera: Candide, New Rotterdam Wharf *****

Whether intended or not, there was a whiff of mischief in the way Scottish Opera launched its tented production of Bernstein’s satirical comic operetta Candide adjacent to its Glasgow production centre the very day after Edinburgh Festival’s solitary staged production – Garsington Opera's Rusalka – ended its run. As an added irony, both productions were directed by Jack Furness.

Thursday’s opening night, part of Scottish Opera’s Live at No 40 series, was a festive extravaganza in itself, coinciding with a marvellously balmy summer evening, set in a marquee-style tent accommodating bar, picnic tables, and a vast open performance space in which the audience had to be as nimble and mobile as Furness’ staging, which darted incessantly between scattered performing stations.

Furness and designer Tim Meacock give us an all-action, hard-hitting Candide. Referencing the supercharged mania of Reality TV and social media, it sits perfectly with the utter idiocy of the Voltaire-inspired plot, taking us on a chaotic global tour with oddities whose antics are as unlikely as they are hideous. It’s not every day an opera comes with a trigger warning for rape, violence, racism, police brutality and substance abuse.

This production’s briskness, directness and sharp humour make such references completely acceptable. The cast, extending from the main players to a concoction of the company’s professional and community choruses and performers from Glasgow’s Maryhill Integration Network, never rests. One even grabbed me for a dance.

The core team is rock-solid, among them William Morgan and Paula Sides as the feverish love-duo Candide and Cunegonde; Ronald Samm, supremely OTT as Pangloss; Susan Bullock, a knock-out hamming up The Old Lady. Conductor Stuart Stratford exerts unstinting control over the music, including Scottish Opera Orchestra, whose elevated presence give full credibility to what is intrinsically a rag-bag score.