Only six years after its unlikely founding in 1962, the young Scottish Opera entered a period of a dozen years when it could do little wrong. The Company was the brainchild of Sir Alexander Gibson, a conductor who was to prove the most pivotal and vital force in the development of music in Scotland in the 20th century. Under his guidance, so impressive were many of Scottish Opera’s productions that those years were named “The Golden Years”. Productions like Cosi fan tutte with the incomparable pairing of Dame Janet Baker and Elizabeth Harwood, the complete Berlioz Trojans again featuring Dame Janet with Ronald Dowd as her Aeneas, the glorious young dramatic soprano Helga Dernesch as Leonore in Fidelio, Dernesch, Baker and Harwood teaming up again in Der Rosenkavalier, and Scotland’s own world class bass baritone David Ward as Wotan in an extraordinary Ring cycle at the end of 1971. More gems were to appear in the early 1970s. The crowning glory of those years was the acquisition, financing and refurbishment of Glasgow’s Theatre Royal as both Scottish Opera’s home theatre and Scotland’s first opera house. Scottish Opera seemed ready to reach new heights. Very quickly, though, the glitter started to fall away. The Golden Years came to their end in late 1978. Scottish Opera then entered into a period of uncertainty, financial crises and ill thought through senior management appointments to the point where it was in a state of near chaos by the mid-1980s. The end result of the financial and other crises of the years that followed was the closure of the Company for a year as mandated by its main funding partner, the Scottish Executive. With Scottish Opera now once again close to another golden era, it is time to reconsider the Golden Years and the reasons for what followed.
This is the first book to have been written by anyone to have worked with Scottish Opera during The Golden Years. Through regular meetings and discussions therefore with many key figures in Scottish Opera, John Duffus explains from personal experience the reasons why it is no longer what it once was.
Excerpt from the Book:
“At the end of a meeting in the Opera House director’s office prior to a performance in Łódź in Poland, I stormed out of his office and wondered how I would break the news to the technical crew. After all the problems the department had faced in earlier years and my promise that we would gradually solve the most important ones, I was extremely concerned they would regard this as just another cock-up that meant their having to work overnight and then all day the following day, an oversight that should have been sorted out at contract stage. When I met with them, there were the usual mutterings that we would not have time to get the performance ready. Even after showing them a copy of the contract, I could tell there were some still unsure whose fault this had been.
To calm everyone, I said I would take them for dinner later in the Grand Hotel, the largest and at one far-off time the most elegant hotel in the city, now more than somewhat dilapidated. The dining room was a large, high space with a small stage at one end. The food was nothing special but there was plenty of beer and vodka. Soon the crew were in fine spirits.
And then! Without warning, the lights suddenly went out. Seconds passed before a drumroll started. This must be some sort of musical interlude, I assumed. It was even more than that. A bright spotlight picked out a skimpily dressed young lady gyrating around the stage in a provocative manner. The Poles loved it. Our crew loved it, the more so when said young lady started slowly to remove her clothes. In austere communist Poland, we were about to be treated to a full-on striptease show with about ten ladies taking part. Clearly this was a regular feature of dinner and explained why almost every table was taken. At least this was some form of compensation for the unscheduled overnight shift the staff were about to start.”
“Scottish Opera’s Golden Years: The Glitter and Why it Faded” by John Duffus is available in hardback at:
The e-book version will also be released soon.
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