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Chance to hear truly world-renowned opera singers up close


By Margaret Chrystall


LAST Sunday you could hear the thrilling, swelling music of a Wagner opera floating onto a Dingwall side street from the town hall.

Unexpected and dramatic, it was the first clue to this weekend’s three unique north performances of the first act of Die Walküre by the Mahler Players.

It is the latest challenge for the chamber group’s chairman and musical director Tomas Leakey.

Mahler Players' French horns. Picture: Callum Mackay
Mahler Players' French horns. Picture: Callum Mackay

Though the opera has been performed in Glasgow and Edinburgh before, it is a premiere for the north of Scotland which will also feature the voices of three top London-based soloists.

Tomas said: “They are absolutely extraordinary soloists – artists who regularly sing lead roles in places like Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera, Opera Frankfurt – and they will be performing with our orchestra, which is significantly larger than usual with around 30 players.”

Mahler Players. Picture: Callum Mackay
Mahler Players. Picture: Callum Mackay

Tenor Peter Wedd as Siegmund, soprano Claire Rutter as Sieglinde and bass-baritone Iestyn Edwards plays Hunding.

The first opera in the Ring Cycle based on Norse legend, Die Walküre’s first act reintroduces the long-parted twins Siegmund and his sister Seiglinde, who is married to the fierce Hunding.

Soloists are tenor Peter Wedd, soprano Claire Rutter and bass-baritone Iestyn Davies. Picture: Callum Mackay
Soloists are tenor Peter Wedd, soprano Claire Rutter and bass-baritone Iestyn Davies. Picture: Callum Mackay

The opera was originally scored for an orchestra of over 100 players.

But in the spirit their Maher In Miniature series, the Mahler Players commissioned two composers, Matthew King and Peter Longworth, to create a chamber orchestra version for smaller numbers though the music is presented full and unabridged.

Iestyn Davies rehearsing. Picture: Callum Mackay
Iestyn Davies rehearsing. Picture: Callum Mackay

Tomas said: “It came quite naturally from what we had done before. We’d done a lot of work with singers in the Mahler song cycles including Das Lied Von Der Erde and we had played two concerts in the past which had significant orchestral excerpts from Wagner.”

Tomas Leakey conducts Wagner. Picture:Callum Mackay
Tomas Leakey conducts Wagner. Picture:Callum Mackay

But with no existing arrangement which would have been suitable , the Players commissioned one, with the support of funding from Creative Scotland.

“The really exciting thing is that for anyone in the north, there is chance to hear it, as playing it is quite rare. You only really get Wagner done in big opera houses and only occasionally in concert. So we are excited about that – and to work with the soloists too.”

There will be three performances at St Giles Church in Elgin, on Friday, Inverness Cathedral on Saturday and the Macphail Centre, Ullapool, on Sunday afternoon.

The Mahler Players rehearse in Dingwall Town Hall for their three concerts this weekend. Picture: Callum Mackay
The Mahler Players rehearse in Dingwall Town Hall for their three concerts this weekend. Picture: Callum Mackay

Tomas said. “The acoustics in all three – particularly in St Giles – are really great and perfect for this music. It gives it a lot of warmth, but not so resonant that it loses the detail of the music.

“The concerts present a great chance to hear, up close and personal, truly world-renowned opera singers. Tenor Peter Wedd recently sang Siegmund to critical acclaim with Opera Frankfurt. His recent credits also include the title role in Lohengrin with Welsh National Opera. Soprano Claire Rutter’s recent credits include the title role in Tosca at Welsh National Opera and Icelandic Opera and Sieglinde at Grange Park Opera. Olivier Award-winning bass-baritone Iestyn Edwards will play Hunding.

“The small venues will bring an immediacy and power to the audiences’ experience which would be difficult to replicate in any other setting.”

The specially-coimmissioned Wagner score. Picture: Callum Mackay
The specially-coimmissioned Wagner score. Picture: Callum Mackay

There will also be surtitles in English with a simultaneous translation from the sung German.

For the musicians too the Wagner is an exciting opportunity.

Leader of the orchestra, violinist Emma Donald, said on Sunday: “We are a small Highland-based orchestra and you wouldn’t think we would have the chance to play such an incredible work. It is massive, epic and awesome – in the original meaning of the word awesome. That is not normally something you would get to do with just four first violins and four seconds. So it is quite cool encompassing all that power. You have to put 100 per cent into it or else it is not going to achieve the results you want, the power. But getting to hear it at rehearsal with the singers for the first time, they are bringing all of the drama!"

Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht is also on the programme.

St Giles Church, Elgin, on Friday, June 21 at 8pm; Inverness Cathedral on Saturday, June 22 at 8pm; the Macphail Centre, Ullapool, at 3pm on Sunday, June 23. Tickets (£22, £20 concessions and £10 for under-26s) are available on www.mahlerplayers.co.uk. Any unsold tickets will be available to buy at the door. Full interview: www.whatson-north.co.uk



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