Inés de Castro, James MacMillan's 1995 opera, returned to Scottish Opera in January with a striking new production by Olivia Fuchs.
James MacMillan’s first opera Inés de Castro received its second production by Scottish Opera in January, employing the composer’s new version with dramatic trims and musical reworkings bringing 20 years of experience to bear on this early work. MacMillan explained in a BBC interview how "in the past composers got the opportunity to try and to err in a way that modern composers don’t. You’ve got one shot at it and if there isn’t a second production you don’t get another chance. Premieres attract an awful lot of attention which can be problematic because there’s so much expectation. Sometimes it takes a second turn for the fullness of a work to be explored."
Olivia Fuchs as director offered a powerful female perspective to the historical tale of a Spanish noblewoman destroyed by the violent intrigues of the 14th century Portuguese court, proclaiming a love that travels beyond the grave. The cast was led by Susannah Glanville in the title role, with strong contributions from the chorus and orchestra of Scottish Opera conducted by the composer.
The Times praised "a score of astonishingly vivid and visceral instrumental ideas" while the Daily Telegraph described how "MacMillan clothes this macabre tale in a richly embroidered musical robe, weaving a complex of thematic threads into the material. It glitters, it slithers, it rustles, it moans… rare sensuality and dark-hued intensity."
"Inés de Castro was MacMillan’s first opera, premiered in 1996...This revised version packs a punch. Echoes of Bartók, Shostakovich and Weill resonate throughout this percussion-rich score, conducted by MacMillan himself. Olivia Fuchs’s production, in 1970s Chilean dictatorship style, is all ash and concrete... By the end all the key characters are dead, the prince has gone mad and the exhumed skeleton of Inés is crowned queen, looking like a carnival monkey. I’ve heard some people say that MacMillan, known to be a Catholic traditionalist, is a bit soft for their taste. If this is soft, don’t show me hard."
"For all the Gothic splendour of the1996 production of James MacMillan's treatment of Jo Clifford's Portuguese history play, this new version is in another league altogether... The score is simply glorious, and superbly played by the large orchestra, the percussion spilling front of house into the boxes. This Inés de Castro is essential, and a work in which Scottish Opera can take real pride."
A further Portuguese connection for MacMillan will be a new work he is planning to write for the Sanctuary at Fátima as part of the pilgrimage site's centenary celebrations in 2017.
> Further information on Work: Inés de Castro
Photo: Scottish Opera/Ken Dundas
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