Opera Scotland

New Year 2024BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBC SSO)

Read more about the opera New Year

Sir Michael Tippett's fifth and final opera, New Year, was launched in Houston in 1989.  The co-commissioners, Glyndebourne Festival, performed it the following year, when they toured it, with two performances at Glasgow Theatre Royal.  Sir Peter Hall's original staging was then re-directed by Robin Tebbutt. It has not been seen here since.

This semi-staged revival by superb BBC forces under Martyn Brabbins was fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable, while not really challenging the validity of a thirty-four year wait for a rehearing. The music is an eclectic mix that includes rock musical, pop song, dance and speech. There was also plenty of music that could only be by Tippett - spiky, lively and beautifully orchestrated. 

The text, described as a space-age fairytale opera, will never be to all tastes, of course, but Tippett's libretti were always controversial in his lifetime.  The Midsummer Marriage, launched at Covent Garden in 1955 with a young Dame Joan Sutherland in the lead, was greeted largely with blank incomprehension.  Its successor, King Priam (1962) is the least controversial of his operas, perhaps because the plot outline was not original.  That work, widely considered his masterpiece, awaits a Scottish premiere.  Both these pieces have been performed regularly over the years - indeed all the British companies, including Scottish Opera, have had success with The Midsummer Marriage.

Tippett's third opera, The Knot Garden, with vague references to Shakespeare's Tempest, was well received in 1970, but has not entered the repertoire, though Scottish Opera gave it an outing in 2005.

The Ice Break, first given at Covent Garden in 1977, has struggled to make any lasting impression, despite a fine opening production by Sam Wanamaker., who had previously staged King Priam.  It is a brief, dystopian urban nightmare that at the same time foretells a thaw in relations with Russia a dozen years before glasnost.  Perhaps, with relations towards Russia back in the freezer, it is time for another look.

This performance of New Year celebrates 35 years since the foundation of NMC Recordings, a great champion of contemporry British Music.  They were present to record this event for posterity, so we will not be required to wait a further thirty-four years to hear it again.  Like The Ice Break, it contains some not entirely successful (too obviously trendy?) references to modern pop, in this case rap and reggae, which may now seem a bit dated.

There was a pre-performance discussion in the Recital Room at 6.45.  Chaired by Kate Molleson, this featured Tippett's biographer Oliver Soden, and Sally Groves, who was a friend as well as representing him with his publisher, Schott.

An excellent cast was assembled.  If memory serves, the role of Presenter, who launches the evening, and comments regularly throughout, was originally treated in a more rock musical style, which reduced the role's impact.  Here the presence of veteran tenor Alan Oke seemed far more successful, located at the back of the stage, with every word projected clearly (not always a good thing with Tippett's lyrics, but these bits were fine). That excellent mezzo Susan Bickley was returning to the role of Nan, which she actually sang in those Glyndebourne performances thirty-four years ago.  Her vocal resources seemed completely unimpaired.

Welsh soprano Rhian Lois, previously heard in the rather different styles of Musetta and Gretel, made a great impact as the central character Jo Ann, while her foster-brother Donny, saddled with the pastiche rap sequences, was delivered successfully by Ross Ramgobin, who is steadily developing as a useful baritone.

The three white-suited extra-terrestrials who sort things out were performed as convincingly as could be. Roland Wood is of course a regular here, most recently in the title role of Marx in London.  His Merlin, perhaps the least significant of the trio, was well-projected.  Robert Murray is an excellent tenor we should hear more often. Rachel Nicholls worked with Scottish Opera early in her career, and is now a noted Wagnerian, though her full resources were hardly required on this occasion.

Will this opera at last catch on with this rehearing?  To be frank, that does seem unlikely.  Tippett's confused plotting simply makes the work difficult to follow, with characters and situations that lack the opportunity for sympathetic treatment, despite some beautiful sounds from the orchestra.

Tickets and programmes were provided free of charge on the night, so a bigger audience might have been expected. But the superb performance was greeted with huge, and justified, enthusiasm.

Performance Cast


Alan Oke

Jo Ann a trainee children's doctor

Rhian Lois

Donny Jo Ann's foster-brother

Ross Ramgobin

Nan their foster-mother

Susan Bickley

Merlin the computer wizard

Roland Wood

Pelegrin the space pilot

Robert Murray

Regan their boss

Rachel Nicholls

Performance DatesNew Year 2024

Map List

City Halls, Glasgow | Glasgow

13 Apr, 19.30

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