This article has been written with the support of Scottish Opera.
Scottish Opera's Silvano: 'As with all of Mascagni's music, it's not overly worried or prepared. It's very refreshing'
Soprano Emma Bell plays Matilde / credit: Paul Foster-Williams
Music Director Stuart Stratford and Staff Director Roxana Haines discuss giving Mascagni's opera its long-overdue Scottish premiere
For a variety of reasons, some operas get performed when they are written, only to be then cast aside, never to see the light of day again. From time to time, that may simply be because they are not much good. Not so the case with Mascagni's Silvano, especially given the passion and enthusiasm Scottish Opera's Music Director Stuart Stratford and recently appointed Staff Director Roxana Haines, have for the piece.
The concert performances' conductor and director respectively, they are both 100% convinced that the Italian composer, known as a one-hit wonder in the world of opera, should be more widely recognised. Familiar only really for Cavalleria Rusticana and its glorious Easter Hymn, Pietro Mascagni was a contemporary of Puccini and, says Stratford, 'When I came across his music at Opera Holland Park, who have a great reputation for championing lesser known works, I thought, that's fantastic and should be done all of the time.'
Although not being revealed in its Scottish premiere as a fully staged version, Haines is of the view that Silvano will work exceptionally well in the concert hall, especially as it is coming to Edinburgh's Usher Hall as well as the more usual City Halls in Glasgow. 'There's a strong, enormous chorus, some of it really luscious' she says, 'and full orchestra, which is on the stage with us, so you see them playing. What I am aiming for is to make the story clear. That's all I ever aim to do, while at the same time enjoying the surreal or magical moments of the narrative.'
Silvano – which Haines actually thinks should be renamed Matilde – is a dramma marinaresco, which translates as 'seafaring drama', that tells the tale of a classic ill-fated love triangle involving two fishermen fighting over the same young woman, the beautiful, but unfaithful, heroine, Matilde. 'She's the more three-dimensional character,' says Haines, 'and it's all about conflict, which this composer does so well.' As Stratford says, 'the piece has real fluency. As with all of Mascagni's music, it's not overly worried or prepared. It's very refreshing, at times with Wagnerian like harmonies combined with Italian clean lines and closed forms. The orchestra love it.'
For Stratford, giving the orchestra music that is new to them and that they enjoy playing is a vital element of the company's artistic planning. 'It's great for orchestral musicians to be in the spotlight and to play as much music as possible. They might have been in the orchestra for twenty years, but are saying, wow, this is music I've never played.' For any opera company, Puccini is a regular on the bill and Mascagni, says Stratford, 'puts Puccini into context.'
There are four principal characters on stage, which Haines explains 'makes it easy to set up scenes with minimal space, so that we can really clarify the characters, placing the music at the forefront.' Both Haines and Stratford are thrilled with the solo singers. 'It's a fantastic cast,' says Haines, with Stratford adding that Emma Bell, who plays Matilde, 'is one of Britain's finest sopranos, she's sensational. In the title role is the international Russian tenor Alexey Dolgov, who was last here to sing Count Vaudémont in Iolanta. He is incredibly popular. And of course we have our own David Stout singing Renzo, and Leah-Marian Jones returning to us to sing Rosa.'
While the opera is as yet unknown to Scottish Opera audiences, the instrumental Barcarolle of Act 2 might sound familiar having been used by Martin Scorsese for the montage scene in his film Raging Bull, which has almost certainly been viewed by more people than have so far seen Mascagni's opera.
Scottish Opera: Silvano, City Halls, Glasgow, Sun 14 April; Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Tue 16 April.