Opera in the Outer Hebrides

Monday 3 June 2019

Tales of mystery and the sea are being brought to Benbecula in operatic form by the University of St Andrews this month.

Byre Opera, the University Music Centre’s in-house opera company, is to perform two short operas on Wednesday 26 June at Sgoil Lionacleit on the isle, marking the culmination of a project introducing local young people to opera.

Based around Vaughan Williams’ rarely-performed Riders to the Sea, pupils from the school’s music and English departments will explore the text, music and themes of the opera with the creative team behind the production.

Pupils will then devise their own short works inspired by the original and have the opportunity to take part in the performance as chorus members.

Ellen Thomson, Head of Outreach at the University of St Andrews Music Centre, said: “The project will give pupils a chance to explore the content and meaning behind the operas. We hope this will lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of the pieces. They will also have the opportunity to work with the professional team behind the production.”

The piano-accompanied double bill will feature two short operas: Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea and Madeleine Dring’s one-act dark comic opera Cupboard Love, both performed in English by a cast of students and recent graduates of the University.

Riders to the Sea, set off the coast of Ireland on the Aran Islands, explores the relationship between humanity and the sea with its arbitrary brutality. The work also explores the tension between the deep-rooted Catholicism of the lead soprano, Maurya, and the elemental power of nature.

Cupboard Love, written in the 1940s, is a one-act domestic “whodunnit” involving a young couple, an illicit affair and a dead body: a bizarre, darkly humorous story unfolds.

Director PJ Harris said: “This double-bill presents two completely contrasting portrayals of how humanity deals with death, from the extreme sadness of grief and loss in Riders to the Sea to the witty, surreal and absurd in Cupboard Love.”

Byre Opera was formed in 2008 to provide stage experience for students, with guidance from performing arts professionals, while offering high-quality operatic performances to audiences. The company performs in St Andrews every summer, before touring.

Image caption: Characters Maurya and her family stare out to sea, contemplating the force which has taken their sons in Riders to the Sea.

Approximately 1h 30m hours including an interval
Riders to the Sea: 42 minutes
Cupboard Love: 25 minutes
Interval: 25 minutes

Sgoil Lionacleit, Benbecula, Outer Hebrides HS7 5PJ

Wednesday 26 June, 7.30pm

Tickets: £5, 16 and under free, available on the door.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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