Scottish Opera’s Amadeus and The Bard at The National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, Edinburgh had two performances today, and this review is for the second one at 3pm. This show is a one hour performance from “Scottish Opera Young Company” and one of the aims of this company is to allow young singers and stage managers the chance to develop their talents alongside more experienced theatrical professionals from a wide range of performance disciplines on specially conceived projects like this one, “Amadeus and The Bard”.
Under the guidance of director and creator Mary McCluskey and musical director and pianist Karen MacIver, this production features a four-voice ensemble from the Scottish Opera Young Company (Cara Blaikie, Ross Fettes, James McIntyre and Erin Spence) performing with Scottish actor Andy Clark, Arthur Bruce (one of Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists for 2019/20), Samling Young Artist Stephanie Stanway (Soprano), and Shannon Stevenson on violin.
As you might have already guessed from the title, this show is about the work of two artists of enduring popularity down the centuries, two men of genius in their respective arts, child musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 to 5 December 1791) and the equally gifted writer, poet and songwriter Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796).
At first glance one might think that there is nothing to connect these two men, they never met, and Mozart’s life around the Royal Courts of Europe could not have been further away from that of the Alloway born farmer’s son Robert Burns, but their all too short lives (died age 35 for Mozart and 37 for Burns) separated by only three years in birth had more in common than anyone might at first guess, and through some of their works we take a look at these “cosmic coincidences” in an entertaining and well-paced production full of humour and tragedy.
With a tightly written script, this show introduces us with a little background information where needed not only to the music and words of “Amadeus and The Bard” but to some of the main people in their lives and the women that they loved. Also a nice little touch putting Mozart’s very gifted musical prodigy sister, Nannerl Mozart (who toured performing music with him), back into her rightful and too often forgotten place in history. Along our artistic path here we visit some well- known arias from Mozart operas and some of the most famous words and songs from Robert Burns. Perhaps the most interesting and imaginative piece from the show was a “mash-up” of Burn’s “Tam O’Shanter” interlaced with music from Mozart.
Although this was a very different audience today, Amadeus and The Bard is obviously a work designed from the beginning to target a youth audience and give them a brief introduction and overview of the music and words of both men, and this production is touring several academies too. By that very definition, this is obviously a work designed to be interactive where required with a younger audience, and perhaps simplified a little (all the arias are sung in English for example), but the work still is not over-simplified and is fully entertaining to an audience of any age.
There are many levels of interest to this work, but perhaps one of them is just how wide a range of skills it now takes to be a performance artist for Scottish Opera; simply having the vocal abilities to start with is simply not enough, and becoming skilled at dramatic theatre is also now very much a part of being a Scottish Opera performance artist. These dramatic skills are obvious even when people are not singing, but simply being part of a scene.
Review by Tom King