5:15 Sublimation and 74 North

Scottish Opera might be selling out the venues, but not the aesthetic: these two short operas are unashamedly serious

Article by Gareth K Vile | 18 May 2010
  • 74 degrees north - Alexander Grove and Jeremy Huw Williams

Of the five operas in the programme, Sublimination is the most difficult. It slowly reveals the dark secret behind the mother's anguish and never shies away from abrasive, emotional declarations; and the presence of Company Cordelia's Kally Lloyd-Jones, as an aggressively seductive tree, signals its association with contemporary, experimental performance.

Beginning with an apparently idyllic family day out, dark memories gradually overwhelm the mother, leading to her final disappearance and, hopefully, acceptance. The intrusions of bitter memory are harsh interruptions to the happy family and the score, from Nick Fells, lurches and threatens throughout. Plunging the characters and plot into confusion, and through an ambiguously happy conclusion, Sublimination is a genuine attempt to peel away the layers of surface accretions that hide the brutal secrets that define personality: an appropriate match for modern classical musical, but a challenging and harsh experience.

74 Degrees North is a superb collaboration between electro-acoustic composer Pete Stollery and orchestral man Paul Mealor. Retelling the story of death in the frozen north, it is sadly undermined by overplayed direction: the majesty of the score, all rumbling instruments and cracking ice is contrasted against melodramatic movement and impassioned singing.

Director Michael McCarthy seems to have lacked the confidence to let the august music do the work, and throws his performers around the set: the dressing and undressing of the oberver is not only distracting, but a strange action given that the words speak of the brutal cold. Yet in the final lines, the calm fatalism of the characters suceeds in drawing attention to the central themes of lonesomeness and suffering, finally letting the music evoke the mood rather than the frantic performances.

Traverse Theatre

20- 22 May, 7.30pm

Òran Mór

25- 27 May, 2.30pm


Various prices, contact venues for details