'Pop-up opera' lined up for Edinburgh Zoo and National Museum of Flight

Pop-up performances of opera are to be staged at Edinburgh Zoo, the Riverside Museum in Glasgow and the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian in the first live cultural events announced since the lifting of restrictions by the Scottish Government last week.

Charlotte Hoather and Ross Stenhouse in A Little Bit of Iolanthe, a previous pop-up production staged by Scottish Opera. Picture: Julie Howden
Charlotte Hoather and Ross Stenhouse in A Little Bit of Iolanthe, a previous pop-up production staged by Scottish Opera. Picture: Julie Howden

Scottish Opera has unveiled plans for a month-long tour of outdoor locations across the country in what will be its first public performances in more than six months.

The company, which will take a specially adapted trailer and a portable stage out on the road in September for a series of 25-minute shows, will also be staging a new production of the tragic love story La bohème outside its production headquarters in Glasgow.

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In a twist to the Puccini opera, which will be performed before audiences of up to 100, all the main characters will be struggling designers, painters, writers and musicians forced to live out of lorries in a car park.

The Scottish Opera shows, which will have all-seater audiences, are the first major tour to be announced by a performing arts company in Scotland since the cultural sector went into shutdown in the middle of March.

The grounds of Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, Platform art centre in Easterhouse, the Heart of Hawick arts centre and The Beacon arts centre in Greenock will also play to the all-seater pop-up shows, which will have a capacity of about 70.

Tickets for performance of the “pop-up opera” roadshow – which will feature condensed versions of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers performed by an eight-strong ensemble – will be free but will have to be booked in advance at each location.

A new work, The Song of the Clyde, will be premiered during the run of up to three shows a day from 4 to 27 September at each location, with further dates possible depending on demand.

Scottish Opera said director Roxana Haines’ version of La bohème, which will cost £20 a ticket, will be “a powerful reinterpretation inspired by the current pandemic”, with the cast of eight performing against a backdrop of graffiti art. All tickets will be available to book from this Thursday.

Alex Reedjik, Scottish Opera’s general director, said: “There’s been a boiling cauldron of desire and ambition within the company to get back out there with performances again.

“The players in our orchestra, our singers, the crews and creative teams have all been saying to me that they really wanted to get back to work.

"We’re probably bringing between 60 and 70 people back to work for these two strands. They’re reduced in scale from what we’d normally do but it’s the best we can do for the moment.

Aidan Edwards in A Little Bit of Iolanthe, a previous Scottish Opera pop-up production. Picture: Julie Howden.

“We’ve been planning things for about six weeks now. When we were thinking of ideas, it seemed to make really good sense to start outside our production studios, where we have our rehearsal rooms, and scenery, props and costume workhops.

“We’re going to use a car park adjacent to our paint shop. The plan is to have a reduced orchestra in there so that the audiences will be very aware there is live music being played inside, with the singers performing outdoors on three separate stages.

“We’ve been sending out pop-up operas around the country for about 10 years now.

"Previously we’d have done them inside, in one of the scenery trailers, but with social distancing we can’t do that. Instead we’ll be using an open trailer as a stage, with the audience sitting in front in their socially distanced bubbles.”

Nixon in China was the last major production staged by Scottish Opera, back in February.

Roxana Haines said the company’s site-specific production of La bohème would be “bright, bold and full of appreciation for the world around us.”

She added: “It’s a world that has, for the past six months, been held together by health systems, medical practitioners and spontaneous eruptions of art.

"The value of art, creativity, culture and community has never been more apparent than when they have all been taken away from us.

"We’ve chosen to stage this production by turning the restrictions we face into creative challenges.”

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