Bizet and the Bard

OperaUpClose present Carmen at Byre in the Botanics July 2016
OperaUpClose present Carmen at Byre in the Botanics July 2016

A sell-out, with a waiting list for tickets – that was the happy situation facing organisers of Byre in the Botanics last weekend.

Friday’s performance by Fifers Barbara Dickson and Rab Noakes, on a perfect evening, had them rocking in the aisles.

Fair weather meant that picnics were enjoyed in the open air and the marquee, which offers audiences the often necessary protection from the elements, was left open.

Dickson and Noakes have enjoyed a long and enduring friendship and it showed in their music which saw a good selection of old favourites and more recent material from the pair.

The Scottish theme continued into Saturday with a ceilidh ahead of an appearance by Capercaillie.

Karen Matheson’s lilting voice and the band’s immaculate tones had toes tapping in the once again packed house.

There is dancing once again this weekend with an invitation to waltz an hour away before the weekend takes a more classical turn with two performances by OperaUpClose.

This Olivier Award-winning opera company aims to produce innovatively staged, unintimidating, affordable and– crucially – high quality productions.

Their first outing in St Andrews is tonight (Friday) when they will be performing the well-known Carmen.

Dominic Haddock is the company’s executive producer, and he told the Citizen that OperaUpClose is on a mission to make opera accessible to more people.

“Introducing new audiences to opera is really important to us – we want to see and hear from people who have never engaged with opera and work out how we can overcome that.”

Part of that is renewing familiar works – and tonight’s Carmen is no exception.

“Our production portrays Carmen as a victim of domestic abuse, beaten throughout the production by José – we are highlighting the fact that what happens is not her fault, it is José who is in the wrong,” Dominic said, acknowledging: “It is a take on the story that some people don’t like, but we are just telling the story in a different way.”

Tomorrow (Saturday) night the company turns its attention to Shakespeare.

“This is a show we wanted to do to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death,” Dominic explained.

“He had a huge influence on music, and we wanted to let people know about that influence.

“In this new production we have taken our favourite pieces of music inspired by Shakespeare’s work and we have written a new story around them.

“There is some really old music and some quite modern tunes.”

Spectacular show-stoppers from Verdi’s Falstaff and the quick-witted wordplay of Beatrice and Benedict rub shoulders with well-loved songs inspired by the Bard – from Schubert to Kiss Me Kate.

Byre in the Botanics ends next weekend with a return to the Bard and a production of Macbeth by Bard in the Botanics.

Scotland’s premier Shakespeare company, Bard in the Botanics is also concerned with accessibility and bringing Shakespeare to a wider audience, and this version of, in true theatrical tradition, play-whose-name-should-never-be-spoken is a new version which is described as “electrifying”.

The show is on both Friday and Saturday evenings (August 5 and 6).

Before that, there’s an afternoon for the whole family on Thursday (August 4).

A big screen showing of The Lion King – itself influenced by Shakespeare’s Hamlet – will follow an afternoon of fun and games at the Botanic Garden.

Organisers promise face painting and arts and crafts, including an opportunity for youngsters to make their own lion mask to go with their painted faces.