18 August, 2009

Festival Blogger review - St Kilda: Island of the Birdmen

Image: St Kilda. Photo: Photo: Christian Mathieu

Last night I had the pleasure of watching the opening night of St Kilda. This was my first show of the Edinburgh International Festival and was a stimulating introduction into what promises to be a thought-provoking programme focused around the theme of the Enlightenment.

Highlights from the opera included the dramatic mix of vintage and modern film footage as well as the impressive acrobatics used to mirror the inhabitants scaling of the island’s sheer cliffs which rise taller than the Empire State Building. Perhaps the highlight was the effortless and lyrical singing of soprano Alyth McCormack playing the role of Catriona. The dissonant orchestration came crashing into McCormack’s floating melodies as the harsh realities of what everyday life meant on St Kilda became all the more apparent to the audience. Her style and voice were perfectly suited to the haunting Gaelic melodies of David Graham and Jean-Paul Dessy’s music, and rather than the liquid line of the music coming across as a wash of sound, she made sense of each line of the Gaelic. As well as Gaelic, the opera was performed in a mixture of French and English. The Gaelic I was expecting and helped to recreate the atmosphere of the island. However the use of French as well as English made the storyline difficult to follow at times.

St Kilda was truly a multi-media experience. The show opened with an eerie monologue by Alain Eloy playing the part of John. On top of this several layers of film, music and acrobatics were built up to create a very sensual impression of what life was like on the island for the audience. Just as the opera started with a lone voice, the production come to a close with the different layers gradually fading out, and the show ended beautifully dying away to nothing. The complex multi-media approach taken by director Thierry Poquet worked both in favour and against the production. Whilst there was always something to hold your attention, sometimes you weren’t sure where to look and the individual components despite themselves all being excellent, didn’t equal more than the sum of their parts.

St Kilda was not easy watching or listening but light entertainment was never the production’s aim. It was simultaneously provocative and heart-breaking and raises awareness of a spectacular world heritage site.

Reviewer: Fiona Stewart

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