Opera Scotland

Building Operatic Muscles in Scotland

Posted 7 Sep

Alex Reedijk, General Director of Scottish Opera, recently spoke to us of the company's progress over the past few years. Given that we were aware that attendances at some other UK opera companis had fallen last year, we listened with interest for the latest news. Alex was delighted to tell us that despite the difficult economic conditions, attendances were actually up significantly.  In fact, during the fiftieth anniversary season, paid attendances were 17% above those for the previous year.

Opera Scotland raised the subject of the new book, 50 Years of Scottish Opera: A Celebration, which had stirred many happy memories.  Almost three hundred pages long, this new hardback is of an attractively high quality. Produced in-house, it contains a comprehensive listing of company productions, the first such list for many years and one that spans all fifty years of the company's existence. "When we were considering formats for the book, I wanted one that stressed what people most remember, the performances" explained Alex. "So we sought memories from all sorts of people: singers, conductors, directors, designers, stage managers, administrators and of course audience members plus our two or three most recent music directors."

"We then matched these with photographs, both colour and black and white, taken by some of the great photographers with whom we've worked over the years.  So there are pictures of many of the great singers and stagings most of which have never been widely seen before".

Alex stressed his belief in the importance of history. "When the Theatre Royal is reopened, it will include a new heritage engagement centre, amongst other things listing operas which were given for the first time in Scotland on the Theatre Royal stage." 

"It is important that we remember just how long opera has been an important part of Scottish life" said Alex. This is a view with which Opera Scotland team heartily agree, as for some time we have been identifying the first Scottish performances of operas.  It already looks as though the Theatre Royal will turn out to have been the most important Scottish venue for opera.  The Scottish premieres of many famous operas (La bohème, Otello, Tannhauser, Aida, Valkyrie) have taken place in the Theatre Royal.  We discussed whether a list of Theatre Royal premieres should include 'turkeys', that is those operas that were never revived or have fallen out of fashion.  "They're all part of the picture", said Alex. "Few operas survive."

Conversation moved to the company's recent history in relation to new opera.  Any art form needs a constant flow of new work if it is to survive, but new full length operas are hugely time consuming , risky and therefore unattractive to many composers. A more flexible model is required.  Scottish Opera's model of  Five:15 has been widely admired for its innovation and copied world wide. Not only that, but as hoped, some of the pieces have been successful enough to be revived. "I saw the need to build some operatic muscles in Scotland" said Alex.  "It seems to be working as there are now a number of composers and writers who see opera as an exciting field in which to work."

Alex continued, "taking stock at the end of fifty years, I believe Scottish Opera is in great shape. It is unique in its commitment to a combination of main stage performances, smaller scale national touring, education and outreach and new commissions."

Copies of 50 Years of Scottish Opera: A Celebration are available direct from Scottish Opera.  See their website for details here.

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