Opera Scotland

Hagar in the Wilderness 2013Nova Music Opera Ensemble

Read more about the opera Hagar in the Wilderness

Sally Beamish's short and concentrated chamber piece was first played at the Presteigne Festival in Wales. Its first performance in Scotland, as part of the St Andrews Voices festival, was given in the wonderfully atmospheric medieval nave of Holy Trinity Church - an impressive space which also has a warm and clear acoustic.

The text is simply laid out, leaving plenty of scope for the atmosphere to be supplied by the quintet of instrumentalists. The music always sounds grateful to the voice, and all the singers seemed to find word projection far easier than is often the case. There were some interesting orientalisms in the musical style - an example being the beautiful melismas for the tenor angel in the closing pages - a sweeter sound than Britten provided for Quint. Instrumental balance was also fine. The percussion was gently atmospheric, with an emphasis on little bells and the eerie tones of the marimba. Harp, piccolo, flute, viola and double bass also produced a range of fascinating sounds. The work was tactfully staged and designed (no credits in the programme, though Richard Williams directed in Wales), and effectively conducted by George Vass.

The work was composed as a companion-piece for Curlew River, and that is how it was presented in Wales. The embryonic St Andrews event presumably could not afford the extra singers, but came up with the ideal solution. The first part of the concert allowed each of the singers a share of the spotlight. Perhaps the honours should go to Edmund Hastings. With only a small role at the end of the opera, he got the evening off to a flying start with Beamish's Four Songs from Hafez, a fascinatingly varied group for tenor and harp. The suite of Britten's folksong arrangements avoided the popular favourites, and allowed Kirsty Hopkins a range of expression very different from her part in the opera. While Britten arranged several accompaniments for the harpist Osian Ellis, it was more surprising to hear the harp accompany a group of songs by Schubert in which baritone Owen Gilhooly also showed an excellent smooth technique and an ability to vary mood. Sadly, the excellent and hard-working harpist was not named in the programme - nor indeed were the other members of the instrumental ensemble. The last item before the interval was the wonderful Debussy Sonata for flute, viola and harp, again producing some lovely sounds, even if the work was perhaps superfluous in the context of the programme as a whole.

Performance Cast

Hagar Abraham's Egyptian servant

Kirsty Hopkins


Owen Gilhooly

Gabriel an angel

Edmund Hastings

Performance DatesHagar in the Wilderness 2013

Map List

Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews | St Andrews

4 Oct, 19.30

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