Music: Tom Cunningham
Libretto: Alexander McCall Smith
Musical Director: Stuart Hope
Reviewer: John Roberts
New Opera doesn’t get any better than Cunningham and McCall Smith’s The Okavango Macbeth, instantly accessible, incredibly melodic and performed by the Edinburgh Studio Opera with relish and commitment.
Having originally premiered and written for a production in Botswana, this is the fourth outing for this production, although relatively unknown outside of Edinburgh, this new one act opera, should be required listening for all lovers of the genre.
Set in a Baboon colony, 3 primatologists study a colony of Baboon’s throughout their time, the Baboon’s behaviour starts to mirror the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and while the Primatologists are studying the primates, they in return are also being watched by the Primates.
Cunningham has created a musical landscape that wouldn’t be too unfamiliar with musical theatre aficionados, with its hummable melodies, a shame that at the production presented here, his music wasn’t played by a small chamber orchestera, instead we are left to the bare essentials of an electric piano, which is played with incredible skill by Stuart Hope. Renowned Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith has provided the Libretto, its fresh, it bounces off the page and balances humour, passion, and darkness with incredible skill.
South African Nicholas Ellenbogenmakes the young members of the Edinburgh Studio Opera push themselves both vocally and physically during the show, the production certainly benefits from it, the opening sequence not to un-similar to The Lion King, is beautifully realised and the production values continue throughout.
Gemma Summerfield as Lady Macbeth gives a knockout performance, a strong vocal with incredible stage presence, a performer who is surely destined for greater things in the future. Jerome Knox as the male Primatologist has a wonderfully velvety baritone voice, clear and crisp, one would have liked to have heard more from him within the piece but its tight 70 minute running time doesn’t unfortunately allow this. Great comic support is also given from Laura Reading and Rachel Timney as the female Primatologist, constantly engaged in the action of the piece, they never let the humour or their voices down. Fill these incredible performances with strong harmonies from the chorus and this is a production that is memorable for all the right reasons.
If you enjoy opera this is a must see, if you have never been to an opera then this is the perfect introductory piece to the art form, and the best thing about it, its suitable for all the family.