A Sanquhar soprano has teamed up with Scotland’s premiere String Orchestra to bring her brand new opera company to Dumfries this month.
Wagner Society of Scotland’s 2018 scholar Claudia Wood will present her newly formed student-led opera company, Blackbird Opera, to audiences at this year’s Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival. The concert, entitled Sir Walter Scott in Music and Opera, features music inspired by the novels of Scott and new arrangements for string by the Scottish Ensemble, who are in residence at the festival this year.
Claudia, who is currently studying for a Masters in Music at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, recognised a need for opportunities for young opera singers in south west Scotland.
She said: “Although there are promoters bringing opera to the south of Scotland, there are no student-led operas here.
“I created Blackbird Opera because I feel there is a need for more student-led opera across the UK, to provide opportunities for young emerging artists from the UK Conservatoires to gain performing experience.
“I also believe it is important to keep bringing opera to new audiences. This is why the event at Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival will be a mixture of rare and popular opera, narrative, poetry, song, ensemble and solo music, as well as the collaboration with the Scottish Ensemble.”
The idea for a concert featuring music inspired by Sir Walter Scott came out of the masters project Claudia is currently undertaking.
She explained: “Scottish opera singer Donald Maxwell, who teaches in Cardiff, advised the Sir Walter Scott-inspired themes would be a good way to start a project off in Scotland, as it was Scott’s novels that inspired the operas by a wealth of composers.
“Through the project, I found there is a lot of music we are not hearing.”
Blackbird Opera comprises two sopranos, two mezzos, two tenors and two baritones, of whom all are young aspiring opera singers.
The concert, which takes place at the Theatre Royal, Dumfries, on Saturday, 26 May, is a multi-artform experience which will include song, music, text and narration.
Claudia said: “I wanted to present rare music alongside some more famous operas. The strings of the Scottish Ensemble will replace the traditional piano or orchestra and that makes the performance very special.”
As well as the music by famous European composers, Blackbird Opera will include a Scottish element to the music by including works from Hamish MacCunn.
Claudia explained: “Presenting a multi-artform performance is a nice way to help the audience understand the music which will be performed in the original language.
“We have added theatre projection so every piece of music will make the audience feel they are in a different room each time.
“The Scottish Ensemble assigned us music composer James Manson to specifically rework some of the music to substitute a string section for a full orchestra. He has, for example, arranged a section of Sullivan’s Ivanhoe for strings. This is all new work and has never been performed before.
“We are also performing extracts from Bizet’s La Jolie Fille de Perth, which was based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Fair Maid of Perth. In our version, the dances and minuets are set for a string ensemble.”
Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival is supporting the event alongside the region’s classical music impresario Derek Rangecroft.
Claudia, who regularly performs concerts for the festival and independently throughout Dumfries and Galloway, says she is looking forward to bringing this exciting new work to the region’s audiences.
She added: “I am really looking forward to coming back to Dumfries and Galloway for the 2018 festival. It’s a great opportunity to come home and show what I have been working on whilst studying at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
“I feel that this year’s event, Walter Scott in Music and Opera, will be extra special, as I will be singing both opera and music alongside some wonderful singers from Cardiff.
“I have always found the audience in Dumfries to be very welcoming and I hope I can continue to make opera a regular feature in the region.”
In a change to the published programme, pianist Sioned Evans will take the place of Conal Bembridge Sayers.
Tickets for the event, which starts at 7.30pm, are available from the Midsteeple Box Office, on 01387 253383, the Wigtown Festival Company on 01988 403222 or online from www.dgartsfestival.org.uk
The singers from Blackbird Opera practice their notes at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.