Scottish Opera Young Company performs immersive double bill this July

20/06/2023

SCOTTISH Opera Young Company is going on tour this summer with an immersive double bill of Henry McPherson’s Maud and Kurt Weill’s Down in the Valley. Opening on 27 July at Scottish Opera Production Studios in Glasgow, the show then tours to Barrfields Theatre in Largs and Stirling’s Albert Halls.

Aged 17 to 21, the members of the Company rehearse throughout the year with Artistic Director Chris Gray, who also conducts, to present this thought-provoking production, which moves between centuries. The operas, directed by Flora Emily Thomson (As The Seasons Turn 2022), are connected by a single Hebridean-inspired set, designed by Finlay McLay, that transforms before the audience’s eyes. 

Maud, by composer, improviser and teacher, Henry McPherson, is a modern retelling of a traditional folk tale. It received its premiere in 2018 at Glasgow’s SWG3 as a winner of Scottish Opera’s Opera Sparks competition. Set in midsummer, it tells the story of a child who stumbles upon a tiny creature in the undergrowth while picking blackberries in an ancient wood. Taking her new-found treasure home, however, not everyone shares her love. 

It is performed alongside composer Kurt Weill’s and librettist Arnold Sundgaard’s magical Down in the Valley, a bittersweet coming-of-age tale showing the light and darkness of one claustrophobic community. In another time, two young adults in an isolated religious village have fallen in love against their elder’s wishes – and the girl disobeys her mother to go dancing with the boy. When a horrible accident changes their lives forever, they have one night to reckon with their fates. 

Scottish Opera Young Company offers young singers a unique and practical introduction to the world of opera and the chance to develop their talent through a year-long programme, working with a range of music professionals. For many of the singers, it is the first step towards building a career in the arts, and gives them the opportunity to perform music written especially for young voices. 

Jane Davidson MBE, Scottish Opera’s Director of Outreach and Education said: “We are delighted to be staging Henry McPherson’s Maud once again following its success as part of our Opera Sparks competition in 2018. It is complemented by Kurt Weill’s menacing folk-inspired opera, Down in the Valley, and promises to be an unmissable night. Scottish Opera Young Company stunned audiences with their moving performances of Rubble last summer, and have been working incredibly hard to bring these two stories to life.”

Chris Gray, Young Company Artistic Director said: “The two pieces musically couldn’t be more different. Many people hear Weill and think of his more complex modernistic musical style of The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken (performed by SOYC in 2021) – a much edgier world than the sweeping melodies and jazzy harmonies of Down in the Valley, one of his late and glorious American works. Maud is the entire opposite – angular, difficult, dissonant, and angsty. The young people have already commented that they can trust their instincts for Down in the Valley, but in Maud everything needs to be thought about, prepared impeccably and executed with real precision. It’s a big transition, and they’re dealing with it so well.”

Director Flora Emily Thomson said: “Both pieces take place on a wild and rugged Hebridean-inspired island, where the community is both your only hope for, and your biggest threat to, survival. Everyone knows everyone and everything too — step out of line and you’ll know it. 

Maud, with its heightened and more vibrant approach, marks the origin of human dominance on the island, whilst Down in the Valley’s romantic composition is balanced by the darkness of a land that is barely reaping what is sown, and the psychological toil this has on a community pushed to the brink. Each piece spotlights how a single action can have rippling consequences, and how easy it is for mob mentalities to take over when a community’s way of life feels in danger. Our design’s fluidity means that the audience should expect to be immersed and engulfed into the world of each piece, becoming shadows of the woods and communities that inhabit the island.”  

Composer Henry McPherson said:

“I’m thrilled Maud is being staged again. I’m excited to see its new incarnation with a new orchestration and a new group of talented young musicians, and can’t wait to see how they bring the dragon to life! The story of Maud comes from Mordiford, a village near where I grew up in Herefordshire. Legend has it that a fearsome dragon once resided in the woods above the village, and wreaked havoc on the townsfolk, killing livestock and terrifying the children. However, legends about monsters are often very one-sided, and in my version of Maud, the main character befriends the dragon, and puts her own body between it and the angry village mob. Whether the dragon really is the evil that it is made out to be, we’re never sure.”

Maud and Down in the Valley are supported by Scottish Opera’s New Commissions Circle, Scottish Opera’s Education Angels, Gordon Fraser Charitable Trust, Rowena Goffin Charitable Trust, Leverhulme Trust, Jennie S Gordon Memorial Trust and Professor Richard Rose.  

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