I have just spent a most exhilarating weekend at Opera Festival Scotland in Dundee. This four-day festival is the brainchild of Michael Jamieson, who always points out that he's not a music professional at all. But he nevertheless did an amazing job, conjuring up a series of events that seemed to cover the whole span of opera, great and small, in the local context of this very interesting Scottish city.
By the time I arrived on Saturday morning, Scottish Opera had already been and gone, followed by a community performance of Aida, mentioned by many as the highlight of the festival. In fact, almost everything I saw was a highlight. An over-30s non-professional singing contest, an unusual concept in itself, was won by Joanne Whalley, who sang a stretch of (I could hardly believe it) Berg's Lulu with total enjoyment and confidence. Scottish-based Opera Bohemia, accompanied by merely piano and cello, performed the clearest version of Figaro's contorted plot that I've ever seen, wonderful voices, and huge fun. A riveting masterclass by Janis Kelly exposed the physical and emotional work that singers have to do, with extraordinary insight.
Events climaxed with a young opera singers' contest, accompanied by RSNO, and won by Colombian soprano Julieth Lozano, a popular choice who would be able to step right into the role of Carmen from which she sang an excerpt. Perhaps the actual star of the show was Dundee's dear old Caird Hall, which was a pleasure to spend time inside of. Several events took place in the building's smaller Marriott Hall, such a convenient extra space in a hundred-year-old arts venue.
The town is looking good, and it delighted me to be able to stay in an elegantly converted jute mill, in a neighbourhood I can remember from years past as looking dead as dead. Of course, like everywhere I visit in the UK, boarded-up shops and properties are appearing centrally, and charity shops fill a few gaps. Out of which, the well-organised Oxfam Bookshop in Reform Street is well worth a visit.