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Features / Shetland set for operatic treat next week

Catherine Backhouse and William Morgan in Opera Highlights, Scottish Opera 2018. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

SCOTTISH Opera are set to visit Lerwick’s Garrison Theatre this month, as part of their unique and intriguing Opera Highlights tour, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.

The acclaimed opera company are visiting 17 venues across Scotland with an unusual concert, where excerpts from famous and not-so-famous operas are woven into a theatrical narrative.

Speaking to Shetland News, soprano Máire Flavin described Highlights as an exciting story with “lots of different bits of different operas” that is as accessible to newcomers as it is satisfying to opera veterans.

Highlights is all about bringing opera to the Highlands and Islands,” Flavin said. “The audiences are always packed and always love it.”

Being very careful not to spoil anything, Flavin explained that the plot centres, fittingly, around an opera touring company and the trials of two stage managers dealing with the outrageous divas. Full of intrigue, rivalry and tense emotions, the production is far more than just a frame story for the various operatic movements.

Interspersed throughout the twisting plot are “different flavours of opera”, including Puccini’s La bohème, Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Così fan tutte.

She added that Gilbert and Sullivan also make an appearance, as does new, contemporary opera by Scottish Opera’s composer in residence, Samuel Bordoli.

While the dialogue is in English, the different operatic snippets are in their native languages; German, Russian, Italian, French and English.

The small cast comprises Flavin herself, mezzo-soprano Catherine Backhouse, tenor William Morgan and baritone Benjamin Lewis.
Accompanying them are director Jack Furness and pianist Patrick Milne. Both Milne and Backhouse are part of the Emerging Artist programme, which gives young, talented artists the chance to work full-time at the company in order to nurture their fledgling careers.

Highlights will be taking to the stage of the Garrison Theatre because its ‘conventional layout’ better suits the production, according to Scottish Opera’s Marketing Officer, Claire Lowney: “The Garrison Theatre is also a great space for the intimate performance that Opera Highlights wil be.”

Scottish Opera has a well-earned reputation for breaking the mold in terms of its productions, and last visited Shetland in 2011 with an audacious contemporary version of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, written by satirist Rory Bremner.

Flavin, who was part of the Orpheus cast in 2011, said she was “really excited” to visit Shetland again as part of the current tour, and to be able to bring a variety of opera to the isles.

Some members of the tour, such as pianist Patrick Milne, have never been to Shetland before, and are looking forward to having a bit of free time to explore.

“I’ve been talking it up [to the others],” she said. “I loved Shetland; everyone is very excited.”

Scottish Opera, Garrison Theatre, 28 February, 7.30pm. Tickets via Shetland Box Office.