Scottish Opera, in addition to their staged work, have decided to put on a couple of concert performances of lesser-known operas every year. Today, it’s the turn of Edgar, a very early and rarely performed Puccini opera, which many have never even heard of, let alone seen! However, by the end of today’s superb performance, we are all asking the question: why haven’t we seen this work before?
The answer to that question is partly supplied by Stuart Stratford, the Music Director of Scottish Opera, when he introduces the opera to us. He tells the story of how the opera was not well received at La Scala in 1889, and had only three performances. Puccini did revise it and cut it down, but he never really liked the plot (and it is very silly—but then that’s true of many operas). So in the end, Puccini neglected it and it lay dormant for many years, and has only recently begun to attract attention and some new productions and recordings, notably by Plácido Domingo.
Given that inauspicious beginning, we are all pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music from the excellent fifty-plus-strong Scottish Opera Orchestra, under the energetic baton of Italian conductor Gianluca Marcianò, particularly vivid as they are on the stage and not in the pit. We are blown away by the musicality of the arias, with a fine international cast, and despite the silly plot are now asking, why isn’t Edgar done more often?
The very silly plot concerns a young knight, Edgar, sung by Peter Auty, who runs off with the seductive Tigrana, sung by Justina Gringytė, much to the sorrow of local girl Fidelia, sung by Claire Rutter, who is the daughter of Gualtiero, sung by Richard Wiegold. Edgar is persuaded to return and atone for his sins by Fidelia’s brother Frank, sung by David Stout, and it all ends unhappily! However, forget the silly plot because the music is wonderful, and the singing excellent.
Auty, who has been a regular at Scottish Opera over the last few years, singing in Carmen, La bohème and Eugene Onegin, is a very fine young tenor and is in very good form this afternoon, although occasionally his voice is a little pushed in the higher range. He makes the best, dramatically, of the silly role of Edgar. Rutter is a very well established soprano, again well known to Scottish Opera fans, and she gives a flawless performance as poor Fidelia, whose loyalty ends up with her being bumped off by Tigrana at the end of the opera!
Knockout star of the afternoon is Lithuanian mezzo soprano, Gringytė, who has been a rising star at Covent Garden, and this afternoon dominated the stage dramatically and vocally as the sexy seductive Tigrana, who wreaks havoc amongst the men and destroys the women. She will be a big star of opera in future, and we are very lucky to have her in Glasgow this afternoon. Frank is well sung by British baritone Stout, and Welsh bass Wiegold is very sound in the smaller role of Gualtiero.
The thirty-strong chorus, on stage at the back of the orchestra under the direction of chorus master Susannah Wapshott, are excellent, and the direction of the singers on stage by Roxanna Haines does its best to lend some verismo to the very silly plot. The overall musical direction under the lively baton of Marcianò is superb, and the audience in the very full Theatre Royal give it a warm response.
Scottish Opera have developed a really good standard of concert performances of little-known operas, and this afternoon Edgar is outstanding. We can look forward to their next concert performance in April of Silvano, by the great Italian composer Pietro Mascagni. This afternoon we have discovered that in Edgar, a neglected work, can be worth hearing, and that Puccini, one of the greatest of all opera composers, never wrote a bad note.