Scottish Opera - Five:15

Size isn’t everything

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Scottish Opera - Five:15

Stephen Dealzey and Alexander McCall Smith

Scottish Opera attempt to turn preconceptions on their heads with Five:15, a series of five new innovative 15-minute works. Carol Main reports

Think opera, and it’s usually think big. At 15 hours in total, for instance, the four operas that make up Wagner’s Ring are very definitely tipping the overblown end of the scale. Proving that the genre doesn’t always have to be of such towering proportions, however, Scottish Opera’s latest venture presents operas that are a mere 15 minutes long. Five specially commissioned operas will be staged together to make up a performance experience that represents a new way of thinking about opera and exploring what it might look like in the future. Each work boasts its own creative team, made up of some of the leading lights in Scotland’s creative and cultural world, including Craig Armstrong, Ian Rankin, Ron Butlin and Lyle Cresswell. The five operas cover an intriguing range of subject matter from The Queens of Govan to Gesualdo, the Italian Renaissance prince and composer, famous for his murders as much as his music.

Heading it all up is project dramaturg, Michael McCarthy. ‘Opera isn’t just the fat lady sings,’ he says. ‘Five:15 is a sharing of the discovery of opera itself, confronting this big, historic art form in a way that is friendly and refreshing. It’s like dipping a toe in the water before full immersion.’

The operas are not intended to be seen as five separate productions, but as a whole which embraces the creativity of all of those involved, composers, writers and directors. Many of them have little experience of opera, but, says McCarthy: ‘Having five different teams under one roof is incredibly exciting with a very vibrant sense of creativity.’

One team faced with the challenge of distilling the musical and dramatic alchemy that is opera into the time it usually takes to knock back a drink in the interval, comprises composer Stephen Deazley, writer Alexander McCall Smith and director Ben Twist. Their piece is Dream Angus, inspired by the Celtic god of dreams. ‘It’s gorgeous, funny and amusing and sends shivers down the spine,’ says Twist. ‘The key thing is that the three of us had been working on it for well over two years, so were comfortable together and knew how each other’s minds work.’

For composer Stephen Deazley, Five:15 also offers an opportunity to test-drive their work. He describes his music as ‘quite tuneful and a response to Sandy’s text. There is no Celtic music, as that’s not my world and I wouldn’t dare to impinge on it.’ Dream Angus uses three solo singers and a chorus of four, as well as a 15-piece orchestra, so has the largest range of singers of the five operas.

‘The chorus helps to tell the story in a way that is a combination of classic Greek chorus and helping Angus get his point across,’ says Deazley. For McCarthy, Dream Angus is but one of five operas that might inspire audiences to catch the bug. ‘They all have a different approach, and all tie in with helping stimulate and develop new opera,’ he says. ‘There are no certain answers for the future, but hopefully what we are doing is part of a new period of creativity for opera in Scotland.’

Oran Mor, Glasgow, Fri 29 Feb, Sat 1 & Sun 2 Mar; The Hub, Edinburgh, Sat 8 & Sun 9 Mar.

Scottish Opera

'Five:15 Opera Made in Scotland' comprises five new 15-minute chamber operas produced through collaborations between some of the leading lights working in Scotland's vibrant creative industry. Each opera has its own unique musical and thematic identity.

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