Opera review: Hirda at Queens Hall, Edinburgh

 

Tilts at contemporary Scottish opera are not exactly uncommon, but this NOISE company commission from a composing team of Chris Stout and Gareth Williams with a libretto by Siam Evans sets and meets its own high standards.

Evans’s narrative recalls the historical heritage of the form – the bliss of Shetland newly-weds is disturbed by the amorous arrival of the groom’s brother, against a background of spookily resonant local legend – but also more contemporary soap opera storylines (the Grundy brothers in The Archers for example), while the composers, whose individual style are amalgamated with unlikely equality, also use many of opera’s best tropes – like the solo/duet/set piece quintet progression – with seemingly casual instinctiveness.

James Robert Carson’s production has a very fine young cast with Laura Margaret Smith, Andrew Dickinson and Douglas Nairne as the central love triangle, and Shuna Scott Sendall as the brothers’ caught-in-the-middle sister, Elsa. Equally crucial are the voices of Jonathan Best and Marie Claire Breen as the supra-natural parts of the narrative, and a septet of well-known and top class instrumentalists, led by Stout and conducted by Williams.

The Shetland dialect of the libretto may present some difficulties for Sassenach audiences (I had less difficulty with the diction of the men in the acoustic of the Queen’s Hall, but other audience members reported the opposite experience), but it is crucially the power of the music – both played and sung – that carries the essence of Evans’s narrative. Stout and Williams have combined their talents in a style that sets a benchmark for traditional and classical collaboration. Catch it if you can.



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