What happens when you couple five established writers with five experienced composers and offer them 15 minutes of stage space? In the case of Scottish Opera's Five:15 Operas Made in Scotland, now in its third year, the answer is a handful of fascinating "shorts" – gripping mini-operas, any of which could be expanded into Three:45, the next stage of this bold experiment to come in 2012.
Where a full-length contemporary opera can overstretch a composer, test a librettist with none of the experience of a da Ponte or a Boito, and damage the financial health of an opera company, not to mention alienating a bewildered audience, Five:15 does just the opposite. Other companies are following suit, with Scottish Opera's "operatunity" venture as their model. With just eight singers, a dedicated small production team, a skeletal set and a chamber-size orchestra (conducted by Derek Clark), Five:15 is highly imaginative in its ambition and execution.
Miriama Young's concentrated Zen Story to a libretto by Alan Spence has a meditative quality with circling chord clusters and a bluesy trumpet. In Sublimation Nick Fells brings out the lyricism of two women's voices in an enigmatic and unsettling story invoking Daphne's laurel tree. 74 Degrees North sees composers Peter Stollery and Paul Mealor join forces to create a haunting electric-acoustic and vocal soundworld that chills the ear in its evocation of a bleak Arctic landscape peopled by Peter Davidson's ghostly narrative.
In The Letter, words by Bernard MacLaverty drawn from a novel by Vasily Grossman, Vitaly Khodosh employs all eight singers to create a searing little drama in which Arlene Rolph's Jewish doctor character leaves a poignant letter to her son describing her final, fateful days before her death in a gas chamber. Lyell Cresswell's sharply satirical take, in three scenes, on the stock-market crash, with a taut scenario by Ron Butlin, sparkles in an evening in which the subject matter tends towards the grave. There's not a dud among these operatic nuggets in which the direction never misses a trick and the versatile ensemble cast inhabits each role with 100 per cent commitment.
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