To be taken on as an Emerging Artist in 2019-20 is surely the shortest of straws in a cruel twist of fate. Making the best of the circumstances, in a brave truly live stream from Scottish Opera’s rehearsal studio in Glasgow, four singers ended their season with a flourish in a short programme devised by Scottish Opera’s Head of Music, Derek Clark. Staff director Roxana Haines filled us in on the broad range of activities undertaken by Scottish Opera’s tenth intake of Emerging Artists, originally a scheme to nurture young singers but which has expanded in recent years to currently include répétiteur Michael Papadopoulos, costume trainee Jasmine Clark, associate producer Lucy Walters and composer Samuel Bordoli. Given lockdown constraints, they have packed in an amazing range of activity but clouded by the work prepared and not performed. Thankfully, there is some hope of rescuing Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream which was about to open on lockdown.

Lucy Walters, Mark Nathan, Arthur Bruce, Charlie Drummond, Jasmine Clark, Michael Papadopoulos
© James Glossop

Fresh out of the claustrophobia of Bordoli’s The Narcissistic Fish kitchen, baritones Arthur Bruce and Mark Nathan gave a spirited account of Irish composer Michael William Balfe’s Excelsior, a lively setting of Longfellow’s poem, and a period piece of solid grandiose Victoriana. Sporting lockdown beards, the two baritones took verses alone but also blended well, Nathan’s elegant sound a foil for Bruce’s gruffer character role.  

Dedicated to Clara Wieck whom Schumann would marry, mezzo-soprano Heather Ireson’s bright tone struck a note of tenderness in his Widmung, from Myrthen, a love poem by Friedrich Rückert, Derek Clark’s perfectly understated piano accompaniment adding to the mood. A change of scene transported us to Edinburgh for Tom the Smuggler’s aria “Sulla poppa del mio brich” from Federico Ricci’s La prigione di Edimburgo, a perfect role for Arthur Bruce clearly relishing the dark corners of this Verdi-like piece culminating in a big heroic ending.

Death stalked the next pair of pieces, Puccini’s Turandot with Charlie Drummond’s “Tu che di gel sei cinta”, the slave girl Liù’s refusal under torture to divulge the name of the Prince. Drummond’s natural timbre, perfect for Puccini, shone boldly in this big piece bringing Liù’s fearless character to life. Mark Nathan was in his element with “O Carlo ascolta” from Don Carlos where Rodrigo valiantly takes a bullet, saving Carlos. Nathan’s lyrical tones were a perfect complement to Verdi’s music as, mortally wounded, he implored his friend not to forget him.

After the gloom, wonderful though it was, some light froth in Derek Clark’s “disarrangement” of Rossini’s Cat Duet, gamely tackled by Charlie Drummond and Heather Ireson. Clarke feels that the joke is over in this piece after a few bars, so he threw in 10 operatic extracts for us to guess. I think I managed a few, but since the concert can be revisited, I won’t spoil the game.

Scottish Opera’s rehearsal studio is usually buzzing with life, so it was sobering to see a single piano and four socially distanced singers, only emphasised by the slight acoustic ghostly echo which says “big empty space”.  It was a genuine thrill to finally watch a truly live performance, short and sweet for now, but hopefully heralding better times on the horizon. In the words sported on Haines’ T-shirt: Hope will not be cancelled.

This performance was reviewed from the video live stream.