Opera review: Scottish Opera Highlights, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock

Although it provides an enjoyable enough showcase for some of Scottish Opera’s exciting new voices, this autumn’s Highlights Tour lacks sizzle, writes Ken Walton

Alexey Gusev and Lea Shaw in Scottish Opera's Highlights Tour PIC: Beth Chalmers

Scottish Opera Highlights, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock ***

It’s a customary feature of Scottish Opera’s Highlights Tour – an autumn aperitif to the company’s main season diet – to take a concoction of set pieces from the vast operatic canon and apply a theme that will make sense of it all.

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For this tour, which opened in Greenock this week, director Jeanne Pansard-Besson explores the dynamic of the human relationship. Four singers become two couples, and with the help of music ranging from Handel to Johann Strauss II (and a solitary onstage pianist) act as the constants in this variable cocktail.

As such, it’s an enjoyable enough showcase for some new Scottish Opera voices to shine. Making their debut with the company are Welsh soprano Meinir Wyn Roberts (at her most passionate and virtuosic in Donizetti’s So anch’io la virtù magica), American mezzo soprano Lea Shaw (notable also in Donizetti, but demonstrating the volcanic richness of her lower register in a searching aria from La Favorita), and Scots singer Glen Cunningham (his airy tenor voice perfectly at home, if slightly underpowered, in Fenton’s aria Horch, die Lerche singt im Hain from Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor).

Not entirely new to the company, Russian baritone Alexey Gusev seems the perfect excuse to include Tchaikovsky in the composer line-up. Left on his own, his red-hot delivery of Prince Yeletsky’s radiant declaration of love, Ya vas lyublyu, from The Queen of Spades, is one of the show’s memorable highlights.

What this presentation doesn’t do, however, except in the full ensemble numbers, is sizzle. The staging is bland and uncommonly routine, more impromptu concert party than national opera company. The repertoire is unadventurous, nothing later than 19th century. On opening night, even the piano (ably played by music director Fiona MacSherry) sounded a little out of sorts. A shot of adrenalin is required.

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