Scottish Opera: Anthropocene (4 stars)

Scottish Opera: Anthropocene

credit: James Glossop

Collaboration between composer Stuart MacRae and writer Louise Welsh is an exceptionally vivid fusion of music and drama

Premiered at a time of year when Scotland was very much feeling the cold, and elsewhere in the world the Polar vortex brought frozen Arctic winds and record-low temperatures to America's Midwest, Anthropocene's first performances could hardly have been timelier. A new opera, and the result of the fourth artistic collaboration between composer Stuart MacRae and writer Louise Welsh, Anthropocene brings a fresh focus, through an exceptionally vivid fusion of music and drama, to this age of environmental change and the human influence that has led to it.

A geological expedition to Greenland finds the research ship – Anthropocene – trapped in ice, unable to move. The discovery of a living person preserved in a block of ice – appropriately named Ice – leads to all sorts of self-motivated cracks in the team, fuelled by personal ambition. Whether it be the vessel's owner, Harry King, whose entrepreneurial ego was perfectly judged by tenor Mark Le Brocq or chief scientist, Professor Prentice, whose primary concern of not abandoning her husband came over loud and clear in Jeni Bern's portrayal, or Benedict Nelson's convincingly scheming journalist Miles, who is out for whatever money he can make.

Ice, captivatingly sung by soprano Jennifer France, is at the opposite end of the scale. Vulnerable, but ultimately holding the power for survival as the drama subtly shifted from 21st century materialism and self-centredness to selflessness, the ancientness of ritual and sacrifice, she, rather than the ship, becomes the pivot of the piece. While the production was simple but effective, it was barren too. Not so the orchestra in MacRae's full, richly endowed score, which intertwined with Welsh's expertly paced storytelling in a wealth of sounds, conjuring up the atmosphere of deep waters and vast icy space.

Seen at King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 2 Feb.

Scottish Opera: Anthropocene

A new opera from Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh, in which a team of scientists trapped in the Arctic has a strange encounter.