Edinburgh Studio Opera are in their 50th anniversary year and are celebrating by staging two operas on the same night. They are of course short operas, but not often done together, as they are very different works. Firstly, we have the baroque opera by Purcell, Dido and Aeneas, and then the much more recent comedy by Puccini, Gianni Schicchi.
This is an ambitious task with the limited space and stage facilities of the Assembly Roxy, but the largely student company tackle them both with great imagination and vigour. Their 30 strong orchestra is expertly conducted by veteran William Conway and sound very good.
Dido and Aeneas is often staged in a rather static way to complement the often slow and beautiful music of Purcell, but here director Robert Hersey and producers Samantha Redfern and Flynn Le Brocq have decided to set it in 1950s Rome, and in particular in the film studios of Cinecitta, the home of Italian cinema. Instead of being a queen, Dido is a big movie star with an entourage of film makers and a group of paparazzi surrounding her. This lends itself to a fast moving farce as the chorus are hustled on off and around the stage in search of action.
Although often amusing, it occasionally undermines the music and the drama. However, there are some very good points. Firstly, the singing is very good overall with Freya Holliman outstanding as Dido. Her lament at the end of the opera is very moving and she is clearly a star of the future. She is ably backed up by Sally Carr as Belinda and Johannes Moore as Aeneas and an excellent chorus when they weren’t running about madly!
After the interval, we get a very different opera – Puccini’s one act comedy Gianni Schicchi, written in 1918 and originally intended to be part of his three part opera evening Il Trittico. It is often performed on its own these days, not least because it has one of his best known arias Mio Babbino Caro. The story of Gianni Schicchi is one of family squabbles over the spoils of the death of the head of the household, a man who has decided to leave all his worldly goods to the local monastery rather than to his avaricious family. Gianni Schicchi is the local fixer and he manages to rig the will so he gets most of the proceeds.
It means there’s lots of room for farce as the family disputes its claims and argues with each other. We aren’t disappointed. Johannes Moore gives a very decent attempt at Gianni Schicchi, well supported by Kenneth Reid as Rinuccio and Serena Linley Adams as Lauretta. Adams sings Mio Babbino Caro very nicely. Ironically, there is less farce in this opera which was written as a comedy than the tragedy of Dido. However, the main “business” is well worked and again Puccini’s music is well played by the orchestra.
Edinburgh Studio Opera is in good health in its fiftieth year and these operas are a testament to that. Yes there are some rough edges but that will get better as the run continues. It ends on Saturday.