Opera Reviews
7 August 2020
Untitled Document

Mascagni's Silvano proves to be a topical treat



by Catriona Graham
Mascagni: Silvano
Scottish Opera
April 2019

#MeToo and knife violence – could Scottish Opera get any more topical with its choice of Silvano for their latest concert performance? Oh – and it’s about fishing too, so that covers the Brexit angle.

Continuing the programme of less well-known operas, music director Stuart Stratford has chosen Mascagni’s follow-up to Cavalleria Rusticana to end the 2018-19 series. Part of the score may be recognised from Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull; otherwise, as Stratford explained, the soundscape is as new to the musicians as to the audience.

And what a soundscape. Much of the music has a gentle, rocking rhythm, like a rowing boat at anchor bobbing with the rippling waves, and the libretto tells us the sea is calm.

The story opens with a charming chorus of women singing the fishermen off to sea. Matilde is the love interest; Emma Bell conveys her lack of agency in the unfolding narrative. When her fiancé Silvano (Alexey Dolgov) returns unexpectedly from hiding in the mountains, their duet captures musically their getting to know each other again, till they are singing in close harmony.

Enter Renzo (David Stout), Silvano’s erstwhile friend, to the female chorus singing sweetly about daisies and flowers. Renzo, less sweetly, throws Silvano’s banditry in his face. Oops! While the others go off to the fishing, and Silvano goes off to see his mother, Renzo returns and threatens to kill Silvano,

Here we start noticing gaps in the backstory, which the original audience probably inferred. In Silvano’s absence, Renzo took advantage of Matilde – but why was she living on her own? Had her father thrown her out because she had taken up with Silvano, who had taken to smuggling? Whatever, Renzo’s sense of entitlement does not accept that ‘No means No’.

The second act begins with the male chorus singing of ‘stars like the eyes of beautiful women’ as they go off to the fishing. Meanwhile, Renzo is hiding a knife in his jacket, while Silvano wins his mother round to accepting Matilde as a daughter-in-law. He goes off to see Matilde as her house, while she is reluctantly meeting Renzo at the ‘rock of sorrow’ – I was sure she was going to jump.

Instead, she wrests the knife from him while he bangs on about what he wants – it’s all about him. By this time Silvano has arrived, somehow gets the knife and – well, spoiler alert! – stabs Renzo, then he and Matilde rush off in opposite directions. It’s not a happy ending.

It’s utterly charming. Dolgov’s Silvano may be occasionally overwhelmed by the orchestra, but his lyrical tenor suits the music well. Stout gets the arrogant entitlement of Renzo, while Leah-Marian Jones is a loving, if slightly disapproving mother. The chorus has some delightful music to sing and Stuart Stratford and the orchestra keep the music rippling along like moonlight on a calm sea. Director Roxana Haines provides just enough interest in the staging without it being busy. All round, an excellent end to the series.

Text © Catriona Graham
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