Opera Scotland

Last Supper 2017BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBC SSO)

Read more about the opera Last Supper

The works of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies are relatively well known in Scotland. Perhaps more surprising is the neglect here of music by his Mancunian contemporaries, Alexander Goehr and Sir Harrison Birtwistle. None of the latter's mature operas, such as The Mask of Orpheus, Gawain or The Minotaur, has to date been heard north of the border. It was good therefore to have an opportunity to see the Scottish premiere of The Last Supper, in a carefully-devised semi-staged performance. Central to the success of the event was the meticulous way in which it was controlled by Martyn Brabbins.

One of the most successful features of the libretto by Robin Blaser is the clarity with which the dozen disciples are introduced to a perhaps largely secular audience. After the Ghost's introductory explanation - that they were to be recalled from the dead to debate what happened - their entries followed in pairs, first Peter with Andrew, then James with John, and so on. They were carefully individualised in characterization, costume and voice type, so we were quickly able to work out who was who (for instance Matthew, the tax-gatherer, was the only one in a suit). The result was that the audience remained gripped throughout a two-hour discourse in which nearly every word was clearly heard, at least from most seats. Victoria Newlyn's tactful direction did everything required to assist this, including the Leonardo-style closing tableau.

The excellent cast was led by Roderick Williams, Opera North's recent Billy Budd. The team of soloists altered significantly from that originally planned, and three of the changes - Susan Bickley, Daniel Norman and Philip Sheffield - came at quite a late stage. All credit then to all of them for the seamless way in which the performance evolved. Susan Bickley's opening sequence, folowed by the arrival of Peter (Edward Grint) and Andrew (Alexander Sprague) immediately captured the audience's attention. The level of absorption remained total, and the complete absence of coughs and sneezes on a miserably cold, damp day, told its own story.

This, like the revival of the Maxwell Davies Taverner a few years ago (also conducted by Brabbins), again helps justify if any were needed the existence of this superb BBC orchestra. It clearly took great dedication and investment in the provision of a significand band of soloists, not to forget the importation of the BBC Singers from their London base to provide the difficult choral support.

The concert was recorded for broadcast as part of BBC Radio 3's Opera on 3 season on Saturday 28 January at 6.30pm.

The performance was warmly applauded by the large audience. The director, then the composer, looking remarkably spry, came on stage to join the performers in a further curtain call.

Performance DatesLast Supper 2017

Map List

City Halls, Glasgow | Glasgow

14 Jan, 19.30

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