Thursday, 6 May 2010

Putting on the glad rags. . .

A chance to pull out the old frock, give it dust down and hit the town with the very cream of Edinburgh society. The occasion? The UK premiere of Okavango Macbeth, an opera written by one of the world’s most popular authors, Alexander McCall Smith and the Edinburgh composer, Tom Cunningham. The hour-long performance of the opera was part of a glittering fund-raiser for Save the Children, held in the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh. And raise funds it certainly did. The evening was a magnificent occasion from the early evening champagne reception, sponsored by Moet & Chandon, through the opera and dinner, to a charity auction finishing off the night.

The opera, The Okavango Macbeth, is set in Botswana. Alexander was keen to write an opera set in that beautiful country and wanted to create opportunities for local singers there. He created the Okavango Macbeth after reading a book entitled Baboon Metaphysics and  a chance meeting with its author, a primatologist in the Okavango Delta. He observed that Baboon society has strong female figures and it occurred to him that this was the perfect  setting for the plot of the famous Shakespearean  tragedy.

So last night, soloists from Glasgow’s Royal Academy of Music and Drama and a chorus from Edinburgh Studio Opera, took to the floor and entertained the audience of 250 with a moving  performance. The energy of individual members of the cast was quite astonishing and the entire performance a celebration of nature. Nicholas Ellengbogen, one of the world’s most distinguished theatre producers, had transformed the Dovecot Studios (an old victorian swimming pool, now refurbished as a beautiful gallery and performance space – well worth a visit) with minimal staging and the performers took on the roles of animals with a great deal of grace and good humour.

After the performance, the standing ovation and a lavish dinner, I have to confess that I sat on my hands as I watched thousands of pounds being raised through bids at the charity auction. Lots which included a silver sculpture inspired by the opera and created by the renowned artist Patrick Mavros, a childhood friend of Alexander’s; a week behind the scenes with Bonhams in London or Edinburgh; a week in a chalet in Verbier and many other top notch gems – raised almost £40k. All just a little beyond my credit card but fascinating to watch.

What an opportunity, to be at the first UK performance of such a piece. An opportunity for which I will always be grateful.


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