Everyone interested in Scottish Opera. its past. present and future — even ifonly in the passing— must be waiting with some anticipation for the imminent production of Weber's Oberon with a specially commissioned new libretto by Anthony Burgess.
Graham Vick. Scottish Opera‘s Director of Productions and producer of Oberon. at only 31 must be the youngest person in such a position of responsibility in international opera anywhere in the world. He defends the decision to give Oberon a new libretto; ‘The original dialogue is very. very bad blank verse and it‘s therefore impossible to act well and produce something serious and dramatic.‘
That in a nutshell is why we can now see a new Oberon. Fine. but then you think of all the other operas with bad plays behind vastly superior music and wonder why they survive
OBERIN’S EARTHLY POWERS
without librettos. ln Oberon though there is much of the German singspiel (spoken rather than sung dialogue) which Vick feels just cannot stand up on its own.
The original story of Oberon is quite fantastic and the framework of Weber's operatic fantasy with libretto by James Robertson Planché remains the same in Burgess' version. In the original Oberon and Titania quarrel over the question of fidelity of mortal lovers; reunion is only possible ifOberon can find a man and woman capable of remaining faithful to each other through the most unlikely and impossible circumstances. In the Burgess version. however. instead of the main character Sir Huon of Bordeaux taking the Caliph of Baghdad's daughter. Rezia. as his wife. then going through shipwreck. capture by pirates. slavery and death threats we have ‘Hugh McDonald‘. a test pilot dressing up as an Arab woman while the princess. Rezia. in the new version is a member of an amateur opera company taken hostage in the Middle East. It would be unfair to give away any more of this new ‘Oberon'. but just to
Unconventional and controversial: Anthony Burgess and Graham Vick prepare to stir audiences with their adaptation of Weber’s Oberon which opens at Glasgow's Theatre Royal on the 23rd. Carol Main sorts out the facts and the fantasy with Oberon‘s director Graham Vick. while Alan Taylor challenges Anthony Burgess on his part in the new Scottish Opera production.
Right: Scottish Opera's Director of Productions. Graham Vick.
Far right: Anthony Burgess. giving Weber‘s Oberon a new libretto.
sharpen the curiosity further. it all takes place in an disused on'ental cinema.
It sounds like fun and so it should be — Vick describes it as a comedy — but nothing about this production is taken lightly. particularly the all-important casting as the principal characters must be able to act their new parts as well as sing Weber‘s demanding music. With Dennis Bailey as Hugh McDonald and Janice Cairns (who sang an astounding Butterﬂy and Ariadne at the Coliseum last season) as Rezia. Vick believes he has the calibre of singing actors necessary. Other members of the cast include Robin Leggate singing Oberon and Maria Jagusz as Puck. Beverley Mills (Selina) and Geoffrey Dolton (Geoffrey Cabot) and members of Scottish Opera’s own chorus take the supporting roles.
Nothing else at all can be taken lightly about this production either. particularly in view of the criticism Scottish Opera has received from the press and public alike in recent months — first the controversial Turandot directed by Tony Palmer and then Vick‘s own Don Giovanni.
But already Vick has assured the company ofinternational recognition with Oberon even before its first performance as through his personal contacts he has sold it as a co-production to La Felice in Venice. Now. Scottish Opera audiences will be getting a much more glamorous and extravagant production than would otherwise have been possible.
Even with such encouragement though. Vick canot remain unmoved by the hostility that Don Giovanni aroused and the possibility of further hostility that such an unconventional treatment of Oberon. complete with old movie clips. may arouse. Vick. undaunted. admits only to disappointment and hurt that Don Giovanni audiences did not try to understand and were. he feels. too ready to condemn emotively. Interestingly enough. he finds that Scottish audiences tend to react more extremely — south of the border the public are much more responsive. In Newcastle. Don Giovanni was received with genuine interest and positive fascination. Vick is determined that if Scottish Opera is to survive as an
4The List 18—31 October