Opera Scotland

Oberon 1985Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Oberon

Oberon has long been recognised as a serious problem for the British operatic repertoire, due to its wonderful music and hopeless libretto.  Most opera managements who love the idea of performing it seem to use one of two methods.  The German-speaking world, reluctant to lose so much wonderful music by a great German composer, many years ago adapted the work to a German text, still unsatisfactory, and rarely performed.

In the English-speaking world, changes have tended to be quite radical, on the assuption that Planché's original text is fundamentally unworkable.  Up to 1985, none of the major British companies had risked having a go at it, and only the Wexford Festival in Ireland, in 1972, had tried it.  Thhis was in a production by Anthony Besch, using a new text.

The origins of Scottish Opera's scheme have never been made public, but they must have seemed promising - a dozen performances were planned in an extensive UK tour with a brief return visit to the Fenice in Venice to follow (the company's first visit to Venice had been with Cavalli's Egisto, a more appropriate choice).

Anthony Burgess was a highly successful writer, and was also musically literate, indeed an enthusiastic composer himself. Graham Vick, the company's Director of Productions, was beginning to establish himself nicely. Everything seemed promising, but in the event, the whole enterprise was woefully misconceived.

The plot was updated to modern times - Reiza and Fatima (here renamed Selina) are secretaries and friends held hostage in an embassy siege somewhere in the middle east. Huon (Hugh MacLaren a test pilot, and Reiza's boyfriend) and his friend Sherasmin (sorry, Geoffrey Cabot, his co-pilot) are sent, with the magical assistance of Oberon, to rescue them. Various complications ensue (the entire quartet gets shipwrecked, not just Reiza), and various political elements are introduced, including oil trading. And Hugh is required to disguise himself in arab costume (female) at one stage.

Graham Vick took this half-baked turkey and added a further layer of business - the framework was a kind of Hollywooden environment from between the wars - Oberon was a bald-headed and militaristic film director (some said based on Erich von Stroheim) and Titania was a platinum blonde starlet.  The magic horn took human form, admittedly a very small human.

The whole enterprise, with its tendency to play middle-eastern potentates and ayatollah figures for laughs, seemed remarkably cack-handed and tasteless.  In the light of political events in the middle east during the next couple of decades it would now quite simply be unperformable.

A lot of the singing was good - Janice Cairns, a decade after her stint in the Scottish Opera Chorus, sang with complete control of the difficulties of Reiza's music.  Beverley Mills and Geoffrey Dolton both sang and acted thoroughly convincingly to make the junior couple seem important.  Dennis Bailey, a heldentenor, struggled with the coloratura difficulties of Huon's music, but Robin Leggate was excellent as Oberon, even having a convincing stab at characterisation.

The conducting of Alexander Gibson was sometimes disappointing, suffering from a lack of momentum as if he had lost interest in proceedings, though there were plenty of beautiful things to be heard.  Russell Craig's sets were wonderful, especially the sand-filled cinema.

For a report on performances of the Planché original, look at 1986, when it was successfully produced at the Edinburgh Festival in a staging by Frank Dunlop.

Venice tour dates to be confirmed.


Scottish Opera's Season 1985/86

Scottish Opera's 1985/86 season consisted of ten operas. The company's new productions ranged through Mozart (The Marriage of Figaro), Weber (Oberon), Verdi (Il trovatore), Offenbach (La Vie parisienne) and Weill (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny). The previous season's Orlando had further performances outside Glasgow, while the revivals were The Magic FluteWertherTosca and The Turn of the Screw.  For Christmas there was a revival of Fiddler on the Roof.  In the spring there was a medium-scale tour of Tales of Hoffmann. The small-scall Opera-Go-Round tour in the autumn took the form of a new (and very different) staging of Tosca.

Performance Cast

Oberon King of the Fairies

Robin Leggate

Titania Queen of the Fairies

Carol Rowlands

Puck Oberon's servant

Maria Jagusz

Sir Huon of Bordeaux Duke of Guienne

Dennis Bailey

Sherasmin Sir Huon's squire

Geoffrey Dolton

Reiza daughter of Haroun el Raschid

Janice Cairns

Fatima Reiza's attendant

Beverley Mills

Haroun el Raschid Caliph of Baghdad

Paul Strathearn


Margaret Preece

Anne Rodger-Bowen

The Horn

Frank Jones

Performance DatesOberon 1985

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

23 Oct, 19.15 26 Oct, 19.15 2 Nov, 14.15 5 Nov, 19.15 7 Nov, 19.15

Theatre Royal, Newcastle | Newcastle-upon-Tyne

12 Nov, 19.15 16 Nov, 19.15

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

22 Nov, 19.15

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

29 Nov, 19.15

Empire Theatre, Liverpool | Liverpool

6 Dec, 19.15

Apollo Theatre | Oxford

10 Dec, 19.15 13 Dec, 19.15

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