It has been a long winter, but the sturdy thump of Scottish Opera’s 2018/19 season brochure through the letterbox is as welcome a sign of spring as the emerging beech leaves on the trees. The majority of Scotland’s population lives within striking distance of Edinburgh and Glasgow’s theatres, but many live miles and even ferry journeys away from the central belt, throwing up a huge geographical engagement challenge for a national opera company. Scottish Opera’s answer is an innovative mixture of mainstay productions in the cities combined with boutique touring activity. Opera Highlights takes a piano and singers into tiny, remote and usually packed village halls and small venues, spreading genuine operatic delight right across Scotland, while Pop-Up Opera provides operatic tasters of Eugene Onegin, H.M.S. Pinafore and a special show for four- to seven-year-olds called Be a Sport, Spike! in an adapted lorry trailer visiting various events. But there is more – much more...

Fun in Scottish Opera's BambinO
© James Glossop

Scottish Opera was the first European opera company to have an Education and Outreach department, and in the coming season 8,000 older primary school children will take part in workshops and performances of 1719! an opera by David Munro about the Jacobite risings, while younger children will experience The Opera Factory, a whirlwind experience which explains how operas are made. The excitement of Scottish Opera arriving at a primary school for a day is genuinely wonderful to see, as is the enjoyment of the community who attend the performances.

In recent years, Scottish Opera’s Connect Company for young singers, instrumentalists and stage managers has developed significantly, now emerging rebranded as the Scottish Opera Young Company. These lively 16- to 23-year-olds will be joined by new Artistic Director Jonathon Swinard and professional singers in a new production of Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice in April 2019.

Taking a baby to the opera might strike one as inadvisable, but Lliam Paterson’s BambinO for six- to 18-month-olds has been an extraordinary success story, enjoying sell-out runs in Scotland. It is touring to Paris and New York (Scottish Opera goes to the Met!) this spring and returns home, appearing in the Edinburgh Fringe before travelling across the country in September, finishing in Shetland. 

With a £10 ticket price for the under-26s at all Scottish Opera’s main shows, this all adds up to a significant and meaningful commitment to sowing the seeds of future audiences and even performers, building enthusiasm and chiming with Scotland’s 2018 Year of Young People. The company’s Emerging Artists programme nurtures young singers, a repetiteur and costume trainee at the start of their careers, a welcome commitment to opera development cemented by the appointment of Samuel Bordoli as Composer-in-Residence.

Richard Burkhard (Papageno), Magic Flute 2012
© Ken Dundas

Stuart Stratford, Scottish Opera’s Music Director, describes the new season as “Old and new, rare and classic” exemplifying what Scottish Opera is all about. Two mainstay revivals bookend the main theatre performances: Matthew Richardson’s 2011 powerful film noir macabre production of Rigoletto opens the season in October with baritone Aris Argiris and soprano Lina Johnson heading up the cast, conducted by Rumon Gamba. Sir Thomas Allen’s delightful steampunk production of The Magic Flute returns in May 2019 with its witty libretto from Kit Hesketh-Harvey, stove-pipe hats, flying boys with parasols and astonishing dresses for the three ladies. Peter Gijsbertsen is joined by Gemma Summerfield (first prize winner at the 2015 Kathleen Ferrier Awards) and Julia Sitkovetsky with Richard Burkhard returning to recreate his 2012 Papageno.

Providing welcome counterpoint to the two revivals, a new co-production of Kátya Kabanová with Theater Magdeburg will be directed by Stephen Lawless. Laura Wilde makes her Scottish Opera debut in the title role, with American tenor Ric Furman as Boris Grigoyevich, Hanna Hip as Varvara and Patricia Bardon as the fearsome mother-in-law Kabanicha. Janáček’s shattering compact opera set in a small Russian community follows Kátya, desperately running out of options as she is torn between her duty as a wife and her burning love for a younger man. 

Following acclaimed success with The Devil Inside, Scottish Opera has commissioned a new opera, Anthropocene in a fourth collaboration with composer Stuart MacRae and librettist Louise Welsh. In the frozen arctic, an expeditionary team of scientists becomes trapped, tensions rise, relationships crumble and then something appears out of the ice. Jennifer France, Jeni Bern and Stephen Gadd head up the cast in what looks like a compellingly chilling evening of storytelling. Stuart Stratford conducts performances in Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Hackney Empire in London, where it is presented in association with The Royal Opera.

Away from theatres, there is a lot going on. A new dynamic promenade production from Bill Bankes-Jones of Pagliacci takes place this summer in a huge tent, already christened “Paisley’s Opera House”, on the town’s Seedhill Sports Ground. Ronald Samm, Robert Hayward, Anna Patalong, Samuel Dale Johnson and Alasdair Elliot join a professional and community chorus with the Orchestra of Scottish Opera conducted by Stuart Stratford.

Eddie Wade in Scottish Opera's Rigoletto (2011)
© Richard Campbell

September’s early autumn golden countryside is a perfect setting for The Lammermuir Festival which takes place in various venues in East Lothian after the excitement of the Edinburgh International Festival has died down. Scottish Opera makes its debut at the festival with a single semi-staged performance of Britten’s church parable chamber opera The Burning Fiery Furnace in the beautiful medieval church of St Mary’s in Haddingon. 

The Opera in Concert programme continues, with forgotten masterpieces of opera verismo being given Scottish premières in concert performance. Stuart Stratford conducts Mascagni’s Silvano with Emma Bell as Matilde, and Gianluca Marcianò conducts Puccini’s second opera Edgar, both passionate love triangles. Scottish Opera is also hosting the National Opera Studio young artists’ residency with the company culminating in a showcase performance in Edinburgh.

The 2018/19 season from Scottish Opera is eclectic and wide-ranging, providing quality opera experiences in the main theatres and beyond, with dementia friendly and A Little Bit of… performances widening audience access. While the big shows anchor the main focus and are keenly anticipated, audiences across Scotland have been surprised and delighted by Scottish Opera’s activities beyond the opera house, sparking curiosity and a hunger for this wonderful art-form.


See listings for the season. 

This preview was sponsored by Scottish Opera.