Scottish Opera – The Devil Inside (4 stars)

Scottish Opera – The Devil Inside

credit: Bill Cooper

Spellbinding adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson short story

In selecting Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story The Bottle Imp, composer Stuart MacRae and writer Louise Welsh have hit on a sure fire winner for their latest collaboration, The Devil Inside. That their partnership was incubated in Scottish Opera’s Five: 15 initiative in 2009 and now results in a piece of world class calibre is testimony to the company’s role in bringing new opera to contemporary audiences. What happens when a soul is sold to the devil for material gain has been pondered many times. The answer is never a happy one, as is the case with The Devil Inside.

To seamless integration of a 14-piece orchestral score, buzzing with ever inventive colour, and incisively taut libretto to match, the tale of greed of money, possessions and things that ultimately don’t really matter when it comes to life and death, is told with spell-binding fascination. That ‘the bottle’ is such an addictive pull -‘the bottle is a friend to me, the bottle makes me whole’ – may have additional resonances with an alcohol troubled society, but what leads to destruction is the genie that this particular bottle holds. With just four singers in all, the two hapless friends who first, in desperation, buy the bottle are given most responsibility for delivering the telling vocal lines.

As Richard and James, Nicholas Sharratt and Ben McAteer are remarkable in how they convey what seems like life’s escalation in the fast track lane, but is really the complete opposite. Rachel Kelly’s Catherine is less convincingly suited to MacRae’s extensive vocal lines, but the ensemble of orchestral soloists below is mesmerising in its palette of expression, exploiting especially the dark colours of lower pitched instruments. The bottle itself, glowing luminously in shades of green, is a stroke of genius from the props department.

The Devil Inside is on at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh on Fri 29 & Sat 30 Jan.

Scottish Opera & Music Theatre Wales: The Devil Inside

  • Directed by: Michael Rafferty (cond)
  • Written by: Louise Welsh

A new opera from writer Louise Welsh and composer Stuart MacRae, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's story The Bottle Imp. James finds a magical bottle that can grant his heart's desire, with certain conditions; he uses it to get all he ever dreamed of, but it all begins to go wrong. Rachel Kelly, Nicholas Sharratt and…