Scottish Opera’s Young Company (SOYC) is a training programme for 17 to 23 year olds that offers young singers the opportunity to work with opera professionals, as well as giving young stage managers aged 16 to 19 a practical introduction to the world of opera and stage management.
As part of Live at No. 40, SOYC will be performing Kurt Weill’s absurdist one-act comedy, The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken. Directed by Roxana Haines, this Scottish premiere takes place at Scottish Opera’s Production Studio car park at 40 Edington Street Glasgow on 31st July and 1st August 2021. Aidan Edwards and Shuna Scott Sendall take on the lead roles, with stage designs by Anna Orton and Georg Kaiser’s libretto in an English translation by Leo Doulton.
Weill was a composer who believed that his music should serve a social purpose on some level and this presentation from SOYC offers a modern interpretation for today’s audiences.
The story is set in Madame Angèle’s photo studio in Paris where she receives a phone call telling her the Tsar will be arriving shortly to have his photograph taken, but nobody knows who invited him. What unfolds is a gang’s planned assassination attempt on the Tsar. Director Roxana Haines, who takes a present-day approach to the slapstick and humour that frames the story explains “Georg Kaiser was an expressionist playwright, collaborating with Kurt Weill in a time when reality couldn’t express the horrors and chaos of the world through words. We’ve utilised this to make roles for our young company, with personified inanimate objects emoting in the photography studio, and a fake news team commenting with emojis and trying to catch the assassination shot. The setting has been modernised to a time where everyone is watching everyone else, through live camera feeds, cctv and silly bugging devices. The show is absurd, unapologetic and joyful, with, for example, the lingering sense of an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.”
The popularity of Weill’s work in Germany during the late 1920s and early 1930s fell dramatically in direct correlation to the rise of National Socialism. Weill was a prominent Jewish artist, so many performances of his work were subjected to violent disruption by Nazi extremists and were forced to close. Kurt Weill left Germany in 1933 never to return and spent the remainder of his life and career in the USA. A significant number of pieces he had composed in the years immediately preceding his exile were never produced elsewhere. As a result, the first UK performance of The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken, which was composed in 1927, did not take place until 1986 at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London. This current production is its Scottish premiere.
SOYC Artistic Director, Chris Gray, who will conduct the young performers said “This has been the perfect piece to bring SOYC back to the stage after 18 months away. They have worked with boundless energy, enthusiasm and commitment to overcome the many challenges of creating a safe, socially distanced performance in which to bring this little-known gem to life! It has been inspiring to see them work. This is a performance not to be missed.”
Online rehearsals have taken place during the pandemic, with socially distanced rehearsals being possible in the past few months. The performance of The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken will be the first time the group has been able to perform live for an audience.
Tickets available to buy online now at scottishopera.org.uk.