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June 2019
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2003-08-06 Scottish Opera Go-Round

At one time in my life I had thought I might live in Scotland. I was working a lot with Scottish Opera, and was based in Glasgow where the people and atmosphere, to me, bore similarities to Dublin. Edinburgh was more immediately and regally beautiful, but also more obviously English than the earthier, Celtic, greener Glasgow.


Before working with the main company at Scottish Opera, I was fortunate to have done several tours with Scottish Opera-go-round, which brought fully staged and costumed operas to every corner of the highlands and islands, by way of a truck for the scenery, costumes and piano, and a mini-bus for the singers and their egos. The audiences in these often remote regions would not otherwise have got the chance to witness a live professional opera production.

I spent twelve weeks of my life in a Scottish Opera-go-round minibus witnessing Diva cat-fights, watching open-mouthed as a Welsh tenor insisted on bringing his emergency survival kit, including a gas stove, saucepans, wellies and food supplies, just in case we broke down miles from civilisation, enduring a driver who drove so slowly that at one stage we were actually passed out by a bumble bee on the dramatic Applecross Peninsula, but for 90% of the time I had the time of my life.

On a day-off, I made my way to Crieff, near Perth, to witness the Highland Games  guys in skirts throwing logs about and that sort of thing (dont try it at home). I paid a visit to nearby Drummond Castle and gardens, but left a little depressed, having no real claim to the estate other than having Drummond as my middle name.

Arbroath is famous for its smokies, but I will always remember it for the effect those smoked fish had on our leading lady. In one performance of an Offenbach opera, myself and a baritone were left onstage on 5 occasions as our Grand Duchess turned green and ran to the wings to fill the plastic bucket awaiting her smokies. We instantly raised the volume of our improvised dialogue in order to muffle the splattering noises from the wings.

Arbroath is also the town the entire cast decided to have their Bingo debut for a night. It seemed like a cool idea at the time until we realised how aggressive smoking Scottish octagenarian Bingo-addicts can be!Though most of my memories are from the northern highlands, there are areas in southern Scotland which also made an impression. The fertile green rolling hills of the Borders region near Galashiels and the pretty wee town of Peebles are reminiscent of Northern England.

Once you get to the Highland capital  Inverness  having failed in monster-spotting, a whole new world opens up. One of my favourite spots, though quite touristy, is Ullapool with its breathtaking views of the Western Isles. Further west to the Wester Ross through towns such as Poolewe and Lochinver one is reminded of Donegal, but on a vast scale. Loch Duich and Eilean Donan Castle, a popular BBC image, lead to the Kyle of Lochalsh, and the novelty of crossing the controversial bridge to the jewel that is the Isle of Skye.

A welcome rain-free day-off on spectacular Skye seemed like a good opportunity to hire a bike, and so a few of us set off sight-seeing, picnics on our carriers, from Broadford to the Old Man of Storr.The fascinating history of the Orkneys encompasses the ancient sites at the Ring of Brodgar, Scara Brae and Maes Howe, to the more recent eery abandoned German U-boats at the Churchill Barriers, and the Italian Chapel built by prisoners of war. We chose our own accomodation, and so it was often hit and miss.

I had chosen a typically Orcadian B&B near St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, run by a little smiling Presbyterian house-proud chain-knitter who staged breakfast strictly between 7am and 7.15am, in November when it was still pitch black outside.Then there is the splendour of the Kyle of Tongue and the entire Sutherland region, Ballachulish and picturesque Glencoe, lovely Lomond, the skeletal Elgin Cathedral, the brown peaty bath-water in my Poolewe B&B, the python round my neck at the Skye Serpentarium, the unique Highland Cus, and the Isle of Aran  Scotland in miniature, some say.Caledonia youre calling me.

More information about Scottish Opera-go-round: