A stripped back celebration of Verdi’s extensive career.
The Verdi Collection is not, says conductor Stuart Stratford, a “superior range of M&S chocolates”. It acts, instead, as a series of highlights from Verdi’s exhaustive career (27 operas in total), a kind of Verdiad. The setting at City Halls is caught halfway between concert hall and opera stage: beautiful but pared back, a full orchestra, no food or drink, the audience all wearing jeans and raincoats. Stratford goes on to tell us that this is deliberate. There are no props or set pieces because “this is not simply an opera gala. All the drama is before us, you don’t need all the costumes and makeup. You just need the score.”
After an overture from La forzo del destino, Stratford takes us through the rest of the programme. We start with Otello (“it’s all about her state of mind. These death knells ring of portent!”). Eri Nakamura (the stand-out performance) enters as Shakespeare’s Desdemona, singing dramatically in Italian, with subtitles on a screen above, “He was born to glory and I to love and to die”. Then we move on to Don Carlo, which Stratford tells us is all about “the colour of Spain, the sound of Spain”. He singles out the trumpets (“go on, give us a wave”) and a solo part played by the lead cellist. Jihoon Kim enters here as King Filippo II, an excellent performance made all the more impressive by the fact that he stepped in at the last minute. Next is scenes from les vepres siciliennes, then un ballo in maschera. Following a twenty minute interval is the much longer scene from La traviata (Stratford tells us “every time I see it I’m still wowed by the mastery of it!”). The finale returns us to La forza del destino, with the death of Lenora, and a beautiful and understated end section by the orchestra.
The sound quality at City Halls is impeccable, though the subtitles cut in and out. And whilst the orchestra and performance is breathtaking, the costumes are slightly underwhelming, seemingly stuck somewhere between black tie and more operatic pieces. The theme that seems to connect these scenes is unrequited love and the agony it causes, from the titles – “elle giammai m’amo: she never loved me” – to lyrics such as “look into their hearts, enthralled by an insane love.” The Verdi Collection, presented by Scottish Opera, concluded to thunderous applause.