Opera Scotland

Belle Hélène 1995Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Belle Hélène

Scottish Opera's season for 1995-96 contained some new productions that were highly memorable, though most were not seen again and none survived for long. After the Edinburgh Festival, where the new staging of The Jacobin opened, there was a very strongly cast small-scale, piano-accompanied tour of La bohème. The main subscription season contained The Jacobin and new stagings of Don Giovanni, La belle Hélène and Hansel and Gretel. A revival of La traviata was followed by new productions of Alceste and Turandot.

This was a very special production of Offenbach’s masterpiece. Perhaps the complete spoken text is a bit long, but the total sense of style was wonderful. John Wells prepared an excellent new translation, and the all French production team clearly wanted the whole thing to work in a way that Offenbach often fails to in translation. The centre round which the whole enterprise revolved was the glorious performance of the title role by Anne Howells. She had done it at the Coliseum in John Copley’s 1976 production, but that had been a broadly farcical reading that lacked the sly sense of wit that this staging produced. Here she dominated the evening with an effortlessly perfect sense of style both in her singing and her dry delivery of the dialogue.

Other notable contributions came from Tracey Welborn as an elegant and debonair Paris and Jonathan Veira's seedy Calchas. The veteran John Mitchinson made a touchingly dotty and absent-minded Menelaus. The musical side was safe in the hands of a young French conductor, Emmanuel Joël, who steered with a wonderfully subtle touch. The entire staging was full of witty elements, including the Ajaxes as G & S lookalikes, Paris as Bacchus with a strategically placed bunch of grapes, and a thoroughly topical ending as a fledgling Eurostar train smashed its way in from the wings as the curtain fell.

Performance Cast

First Young Girl

Karen Murray

Second Young Girl

Ailsa Mooney

Calchas High Priest of Jupiter

Jonathan Veira

Philocomus Chaplain to Calchas

Paul Anwyl

Euthycles a blacksmith

David Morrison

Hélène Queen of Sparta

Anne Howells

Oreste son of Agamemnon

Ann Taylor

Doris a woman of the town

Stella Litchfield

Chloé a woman of the town

Frances Morrison-Allen

Paris son of King Priam

Tracey Welborn

Ajax I King of Salamis

James Nelson

Ajax II King of the Locrians

Garry Magee

Achille King of Phtiotidos

Gordon Wilson

Ménélas King of Sparta

John Mitchinson

Agamemnon King of Kings

Andrew Slater

Bacchis attendant to Hélène

Elaine MacKillop

Performance DatesBelle Hélène 1995

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

25 Oct, 19.15 28 Oct, 19.15 30 Oct, 19.15 2 Nov, 19.15 4 Nov, 19.15

Theatre Royal, Newcastle | Newcastle-upon-Tyne

7 Nov, 19.15 10 Nov, 19.15 18 Nov, 19.15

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

21 Nov, 19.15 25 Nov, 19.15

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