Opera Scotland

Seal-Woman 2023Scots Opera Project

Read more about the opera Seal-Woman

The Scots Opera Project, founded in Ayr under the direction of tenor David Douglas, has hitherto limited its performances in the Scots language to west coast venues. They recently presented Marjory Kennedy-Fraser’s and Granville Bantock’s Celtic folk opera, The Seal-Woman. This opera, which was first performed in 1924, is based on the  Hebridean folk legend of the mythical Selkie - a seal that becomes human and vice-versa - and is inspired and created from songs of the Scottish Hebrides.  Some of these melodies are quite familiar, including the Eriskay Love-Lilt. As the librettist was born in Perth, it is perhaps appropriate that the Perth Festival of 2023 should see the 'Project' make its first venture to the east of the country.

The first of two performances in the Joan Knight Studio Theatre was a great success, greeted with huge enthusiasm by the capacity audience of 160.  Central to its success was the Scots Opera Project Community Chorus - 22 voices coached to sing comfortably in Gaelic - indeed the soloists also needed to switch between Gaelic and English as required.

Bantock's natural musical style is akin to the big romantic works of Wagner and Strauss.  This piece is on a smaller scale, scored for a chamber ensemble of sixteen players, but here that was reduced to solo piano.  This was a challenge for the excellent pianist, Hebba Banyaghia.  Much of the time the vocal setting was in the form of lyrical recitative.  However when the characters were silent the piano writing frequently became lush and powerful.  There were occasions of crisis when the solo voices did soar in a full-blown style, underpinned by the keyboard.  The Seal-Woman  had several points like this, particularly when deciding to stay on land and live with her Islesman, then, seven years later, when she returned to the sea.  Unusually, the tenor had a beautifully written sequence after this, as he realises that he and his child have been deserted.

The solo voices were uniformly excellent.  In the title role we had the superb mezzo Sioned Gwen Davies.  She has worked with Scottish Opera for several years now, and has developed into a fine dramatic performer.  The company's founder and director is the tenor David Douglas.  He has had experience in the French baroque repertoire with Les Arts Florissants, as well as with this Scots Project, and his voice has the necessary lovely easy and sweet top.  It is beautifully focused, so doeasn't need to be as powerful as some vices might be.

Ulrike Wutscher made much of her character part as the seer.  The soprano Colleen Nicoll sang with purity and also led the choruses effectively, especially when the other singers were off-stage.  The fifth soloist was baritone Michael Longden.  With a lovely smoothly produced voice he projected lots of character, and was also clearly a highly effective chorus-master.

In all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable event, introducing us to a completely unknown work with music by a near-forgotten composer.  The Scots Opera Project should consider coming east again before too long.

Performance DatesSeal-Woman 2023

Map List

Perth Theatre | Perth

21 May, 19.30 22 May, 19.30

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2023

Site by SiteBuddha