Last week, Scottish Opera unveiled their 2010/11 season. Well, I say season, the four operas they're putting on next year would be a more accurate description, which is rather a pity. In london Covent Garden and English National Opera will manage 20 and 14 respectively. Even Welsh National Opera can manage seven and Opera North has eight including kicking off a Ring cycle (what a pity the next stage of their Janacek series, From the House of the Dead, isn't coming up here as this season's joint production of Broucek did). What's more, Scottish Opera is being even less adventurous than the last couple have years have been, which is saying something.
Of course, to some extent this isn't entirely their fault - the company has been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy since the glorious, though simultaneously ruinous, Ring Cycle of 2003. Well, I say not entirely their fault, but one can argue it only had that effect due to incompetent management. They are not helped by having the burden, rare in the UK arts scene, of a fully salaried orchestra, something impossible to justify given how much work they get. Perhaps if this situation was rationalised they could put together a more ambitious season; in fairness this is something are trying to do at the moment (and both the Herald and the Scotsman's season launch coverage is dominated by it).
Still, let's talk about the art rather than the process and take a look at what we are getting. Things kick off in October and November with Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. We are told,"Internationally renowned baritone Sir Thomas Allen directs". This seems an odd thing to tout in a director, as opposed to, say, directing, but then his credits there are comparitatively few - he is clearly at the outset of his directorial career. That said, if the reviews are anything to go by, his Il barbiere di Siviglia at Scottish Opera a few years ago seems to have been both pretty faithful and good and had some nice comedic touches; he also sounds to be a good director of character. In other words, in these days of director's opera, he could be very much a blessing. All of which bodes well for Figaro. At the podium is music director Francesco Corti whom I've yet to experience (but will at the Festival in a concert performance).
There is nothing then until February (Glasgow) and March (Edinburgh) when Handel's Orlando crops up. Not, I think, his greatest composition. Paul Goodwin has his work cut out for him, as even in the hands of Handel supremo Charles Mackerras at the Royal Opera House a few years back it had its longueurs (though that wasn't helped by a rather silly production). Young director Harry Fehr seems to have done very little indeed, so it is impossible to know how the production will turn out, though he has assisted some fairly impressive names. My advice is to wait for the reviews - in the wrong hands this is a very long three and a half hours.
Later in March and April Corti is back, this time with Strauss's Intermezzo. Google reveals nothing about the production team of Wolfgang Quetes and Manfred Kaderk (well, aside from the fact they appear to have done a lot of work in Germany, so let's hope they aren't fans of director's opera).
Finally, things finish up in May (or June if you're further north) with Verdi's Rigoletto. Matthew Richardson reworks what we are told is his "stylish, critically acclaimed 2005 production for the NBR New Zealand Opera." We'll have to take their word for it, since despite the power of google I can find no coverage of it. The cast list is worryingly incomplete too, with just four roles listed. Tobias Ringbord conducts.
Vocal, throughout the season, there is the lack of big names one has come to expect. I don't mind this per se, especially when money is tight, not to mention that Covent Garden has often shown that size of name does not equal quality. However, there is little evidence that Scottish Opera is fulfilling what should be its raison d'etre - nurturing young Scottish talent (RSAMD collaboration, of which more below, aside), Kate Valentine and Nadine Livingston being rare exceptions. Having said that, there does appear to be a significant bias towards young singers at the start of their careers, rather than older second rate singers, which is a good thing.
However, given the calibre of soloist we regularly get to hear with Scottish orchestras, it's all a little disappointing. This year we've had appearances by Christine Brewer and Karen Cargill; the Ticciati and SCO's season opening Don Giovanni and the Runnicles and BBC SSO's act one of Walkure are more exciting operatic prospects than anything on offer here and feature the likes of Kate Royal, Susan Gritton, Florian Boesch and Stuart Skelton.
Scottish Opera will argue they have a fifth production in Carmen. However, given this is stripped down orchestrally and a touring production that doesn't visit the capital, I'm not counting it. I'm not against the idea, far from it; I think taking productions all over Scotland, and to smaller venues, is great. I just think that given it's getting done in Glasgow there's no excuse for not bringing it to Edinburgh.
Actually, the most exciting thing is probably the annual collaboration with the RSAMD, which brings Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen. It's a shame they couldn't have picked one of his works that I haven't seen twice in the last year, but I suppose something is better than nothing.
Five:15, their interesting series of new mini-opera commissions does not make a return (apparently this is because there are bigger plans for new work in 2011/12, when they celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2012). We'll have to wait until next year to see if this is the case or not.
In an effort to justify the orchestra, there have been concerts in St Andrews Square (again, Glasgow only), but it is not clear if these will continue. Given the fine supply of concerts in Glasgow already on offer, I'm not sure of the point myself.
Altogether then, I'm afraid there is not a huge amount to get excited about. I suspect much of my operatic experience will continue to come from regular trips south. The brouchure has yet to appear on my doormat, nor is it available via the website (where information is sparse). Given this, and the fact the listings are not yet on the Festival Theatre website, I cannot comment on price. In previous years comparison with the likes of ENO has not been favourable and the fact that it is possible to get cheaper tickets to Covent Garden is, to say the least, puzzling. They may, of course, have acted to remedy that this year, but I won't hold my breath.
Personally, my solution would be to disband the company and commission one offs with the likes of the RSNO, BBCSSO and SCO picking up the pit duties. After all, prior to the formation of the Scottish Opera the then SNO used to pick up the pit duties. Given the fine opera conductors we have at the helms of the orchestras in question, this would seem a doubly fine scheme. It would also be an excellent means of spreading limited resources further.
What will I be booking? Well, given the comfortable margin between Glasgow and Edinburgh performances, I'll be waiting for the reviews.