Opera Scotland

Lied von der Erde 2020Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Read more about the opera Song of the Earth

The steady 'mission creep' of the Operascotland website has long included concert and music theatre works that stretch the definition of the term 'opera' beyond its original bounds.  Other works that are certainly dramatic, and employ singers of classical training, have thus far been excluded, perhaps unreasonably.  We have now acceded to requests to include, for example, some works appearing in the current season of the RSNO.  These include Mahler's glorious Lied von der Erde and Verdi's uniquely dramatic Messa da Requiem.  If we include those, and other choral or vocal masterworks by Brahms, Elgar and others, then how can we exclude Messiah?  The number of performances that must have occurred in Scotland over the decades is a daunting prospect for research, and we will take our time. 


An excellent pair of soloists were brought together for the great Mahler song symphony. Often, nowadays, this ambitious piece is seen to be enough on its own for an audience to concentrate on in a concert.  Karajan certainly thought so at the Edinburgh Festival back in 1972.  However this conductor and orchestra are gradually working their way through the wonderful Richard Strauss tone poems and so this programme began with the monumental Also sprach Zarathustra.

The second performance, in Glasgow, really was a quite superb evening, and difficult to fault.  The Strauss was just the kind of sonic spectacular that it should be, with full-blooded sequences contrasting with amazing delicacy.

For the Mahler, the emphasis was on subtlety.  For all the large number of players on stage, the periods when they are all going full blast are few and far between.  Here Søndergård's emphasis was on drawing out wonderful details, rarely heard, from individual players, while still holding everythng together in a fascinating way.  Nothing seemed rushed, but there was all the excitement anyone could need.

The two soloists did everything expected of them.  Simon O'Neill's clear upper register rode above the orchestra with ease.  He also produced a more lyrical sound at the top of his range than one remembered from his Festival Siegfried a couple of years ago.

Jane Irwin gave many glorious performances in opera and concert in the early years of her career as a mezzo.  Indeed she previously sang this work with great success at the 2006 Edinburgh Festival.  More recently she has been singing some soprano parts (with Isolde on the horizon), so it was lovely to hear how she has retained the glowing, exquisite lower voice of old.  She gave a moving performance of her three songs, joining with orchestra in a wonderfully fulfilling account of the Farewell.

It seemed odd that the hall should have quite a lot of empty seats, but the gathering threat of the Coronavirus, sweeping in from the orient and reaching epidemic proportions, must have encouraged some ticket holders to stay at home.  On the day impulse buyers were not in evidence.  This was confirmed the following Thursday, when the orchestra played in Dundee.  The audience seemed half its usual size.  Further, the soloist, Turkish pianist/composer Fazil Say cancelled.  The scheduled opener, his Grand Bazaar, due to receive its UK premiere, was replaced by the Beethoven Coriolan overture. A fresh pianist, Sunwook Kim, appeared, to finish the concert with a thrillingly dramatic performance of the 'Emperor'.  The central, non-Beethoven work, saw the RSNO Chorus, on a rare visit north, join a reduced orchestra in Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms.  Another wonderful concert led by Søndergård. 

Sadly, as the pandemic gathered force, we were faced with the threat that concert halls, opera houses and theatres might all be forced to close for the duration.

Performance Cast


Jane Irwin


Simon O'Neill

Performance DatesLied von der Erde 2020

Map List

Usher Hall | Edinburgh

6 Mar, 19.30

Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow | Glasgow

7 Mar, 19.30

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