Music Nairn's concert season came to an end with a gala concert given by Opera Alba. As their name suggests, this is a quartet of Scottish opera singers who present programmes of opera arias, duets, ensembles and much more besides. It is perhaps a testimony to Nairn's noble operatic past that the audience, mainly made up of people of mature years, was a substantial one.
The programme opened with genuine high opera in the form of music by Verdi, Puccini, Mozart and Bizet, and a particular highlight was the lovely Au fond du temple saint from The Pearl Fishers. This famous duet for the unusual combination of tenor and baritone was sung with wonderful intensity and passion by Roger Paterson and Steven Faughey. Faughey had already presented his musical credentials in a fine account of Questo amor from Puccini's rarely performed opera Edgar, while Paterson's heroic account of Questa o quella from Verdi's Rigoletto was powerfully convincing. Concerts of operatic extracts present the performers with a number of options – Do you set each work in a narrative context? Do you semi-act the extract? - Opera Alba seemed to me to find a nice middle way.
After this all too brief flirtation with opera, things began to move downmarket through operetta to musicals, then shows and finally comic party pieces. Soprano Daisy Henderson sang the ubiquitous old chestnut Vilia from the Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow with a rather broad vibrato, which had already become apparent in the opening operatic section. I have to say I found this aspect of her voice rather disconcerting and felt that it unfortunately muddied the tuning in much of the ensemble work. However her account with Julie Martin-Carter of Rossini's Cat Duet was imaginatively amusing. Some Gilbert and Sullivan went down particularly well with the audience – this repertoire had been a speciality of Nairn Opera – but soon we had moved on to musicals. Particularly nicely presented was Ivor Novello's timeless We'll gather lilacs from Glamorous Night, while the first half concluded with the Champagne Chorus from Strauss's Die Fledermaus.
In the second half, more popular material was interspersed with party pieces, which ranged from an intriguing traditional Click Song from South African Mezzo Julie Martin-Carter, and a fine account by Roger Paterson of the power-ballad Anthem from Chess. However, a Tom Lehrer number from Steven Faughey, preceded by a ill-gauged attempt at stand-up comedy, and Daisy Henderson's account of the Flanders and Swann parody aria A Word on my Ear proved less successful – nothing kills the mood like two professional singers both forgetting their words and having to consult the pianist's score. The contrasting success of a medley from My Fair Lady and a sequence of Gershwin numbers suggested that the decision to 'let the hair down' to the extent of clowning was as ill-advised as it was unnecessary.
Special mention should be made of Michal Gajzler, so much more than the group's accompanist, who coped admirably with a series of piano reductions in a variety of musical styles as well as the singers' whims and foibles. At their best, Opera Alba sounded convincing both individually and in ensemble across a wide range of musical styles, but this was a performance with embarrassing rough edges, and for my taste the journey from classic to pop started too soon and went too far. This was primarily an evening of nostalgia for me. Over the years I have played in the orchestra pit for runs of most of the operettas and shows represented, have watched one of my soprano colleagues ably nail the Flanders and Swann parody - and then there's the stand-up comedy…