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  • Alistair Braidwood

Passion Plays: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Sunday Series – Rachmaninov’s Aleko an


Yesterday (Sunday 6th May) saw the last in the current run of Scottish Opera‘s Sunday Series: Opera In Concert, and, as with the previous concerts of the 2017/18 season, it came from Russia. This time around it was a double bill of Rachmaninov’s one-act operas, Aleko and Francesca Da Rimini, and what a way to finish what has been a breathtaking season. As with the recently reviewed Eugene Onegin, these operas were packed full of passion, with familiar themes of love, regret, the vibrancy of youth, the cruel passing of time, but now there was added murder, betrayal, sizzling affairs, sibling rivalry, damnation, and a journey into hell. It’s what Sunday’s are all about.

The parallels between these two operas and Eugene Onegin are marked, with Aleko being based upon another, lesser known, Pushkin poem, The Gypsies (which some consider an influence on Carmen), while Francesca Da Rimini (given its Scottish premiere here) has a libretto from Tchaikovsky’s brother, the brilliantly monikered ‘Modest’. The former opera is about the traveller, Aleko, who falls in love with the gypsy woman, Zemfira. As her love for him fades she gives her heart to another, younger, suitor, and when Aleko finds out… Well, let’s just say things don’t end well. 

Francesca Da Rimini is the story of Paolo and Francesca who are discovered in the Second Circle of Hell by the ghost of Virgil and Dante himself, yet another adaptation of that poet’s famous text, The Divine Comedy. At their request, Paolo and Francesca go on to tell the two of how they came to be there, which is played out in flashback. Warmonger Lanciotto suspects that his wife, Francesca, loves his younger brother, Paolo. When he next goes to battle he leaves the two together with the fear that they will prove him right. When he returns he catches the two lovers and… Well, let’s just say things don’t end well.

Scottish Opera’s Sunday Series are an opportunity for the music to take centre stage, stripped down to having the orchestra front and centre, with the chorus in the dress circle, and the possibility of the cast popping up anywhere in the theatre when not on stage. This allows the audience to fully appreciate the immense talents of all of those involved. If you’ve never attended opera, then these concerts are the perfect place for you to test the waters. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

You can now download the brochure for Season 2018/19, which promises Puccini, Mascagni and Britten for the next Opera In Concert series, as well as the many other delights on offer – too many to mention here, so make sure you take a look for yourself. Suffice to say, they will need to do well to match the magic and wonder of 17/18’s Russian winter which will live long in the memory. Scottish Opera’s recent record suggests they will do just that.

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