"I was gripped by every minute of it" - triumphant world premiere for Stuart MacRae's Anthropocene

28 January 2019

Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh's fourth collaboration "Anthropocene" has been premiered by Scottish Opera to stunning reviews.

It has been described as "enthralling" by the Daily Telegraph, "evocative" by The Times, "a wonder of skilful orchestration" by The Guardian, and "tense and riveting" and "a work that surely embodies the spirit of good 21st century opera" by Classical Music:

"I was gripped by every minute of it... MacRae’s score is never merely illustrative of a text: there are episodes of rich lyricism, including a duet of almost Straussian sensuality for two sopranos and some marvellously inventive orchestral sonorities evoking both the rigours and splendours of the Arctic landscape through shimmering, skittering strings and growling brass. Its greatest virtue, however, is vividly fluent and expressive vocal writing that enlarges and illuminates the words and the situations as only opera can do. [...] Anthropocene? It’s the name recently given to the geological era in which man has been on the scene, with largely catastrophic effects. Like everything else in this enthralling new opera, it resonates" (4****)

Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph

"No quibbles, however, about the evocative power of MacRae’s music, which is superbly performed under Stuart Stratford’s direction. Is there another living composer capable of conjuring up such primordial grunts, terrifying shrieks, spine-shivering string effects and histrionic harmonies out of a conventional orchestra, yet still ensuring that every word of the libretto is audible? The opera’s final five minutes — in which the entire band seems to slither downwards in quarter tones — is an orchestration masterclass in itself" (4****)

Richard Morrison, The Times

"MacRae’s musical language has softened since his early days as a composer of uncompromisingly modernist works. His score for this is a wonder of skilful orchestration, conjuring icy-cold landscapes and the fear in the hearts of the protagonists. The opening launches straight into the action with fluttering, swirling string motifs suggesting the snow that is about to envelop the ship and its passengers. The musical interludes between scenes, particularly the sensuous depiction of the northern lights, are vignettes of great character and delicacy: it’s no stretch to imagine them being excerpted and expanded into an orchestral work. (4****)

Rowena Smith, The Guardian

Anthropocene, a tense and riveting 3-Act thriller set in the icy wastes of Greenland by composer Stuart MacRae and novelist/librettist Louise Welsh. Their partnership has been nurtured in a progressive series of Scottish Opera projects, the fruits of which are a work that ticks every box in terms of defining what modern opera should be about if it is to honour tradition, yet say something potent and new. [...] The crowning glory, though, is MacRae’s brilliantly aligned score, free and easy in style, rich in dramatic thrust, but always an essential driving force in a work that surely embodies the spirit of good 21st-century opera"

Ken Walton, Classical Music Magazine

"The arctic is the perfect setting for MacRae’s strong, dissonant score. His clever use of quarter-tones at the extremes of the scale and exotic percussion help build the tension and create a sound picture of an all-white environment, lit by the Northern Lights. [...] His vocal lines add weight to Welsh’s libretto, from the elaborate for Mark Le Brocq, as expedition backer, Harry King to the warmth of Jeni Bern, as Professor Prentice, whose husband finds the ice woman"

Thom Dibdin, The Stage

"MacRae, possibly peerless among contemporary British composers in his mastery of orchestral effect, strengthens the characterization in his handling of the vocal lines... [His] score heaves and glistens in a succession of mesmerizing sound-images: not only does the orchestra control the drama’s time and emotional trajectory, but details such as the creaking of the ice, the sudden lust for blood, the impenetrable darkness and consequent moral confusion, are all brought vividly to life"

Guy Dammann, Times Literary Suplement

"MacRae creates orchestral textures notable for their delicacy and intricacy which are nevertheless capable of rising to brassy density for moments of high drama"

George Hall, Financial Times

"there is much that is genuinely “cinematic” in both the staging and in MacRae’s score, which conjures up the landscape of the tundra as eloquently as the design [...] Anthropocene is a work of great clarity, and very accessible, for all its musical modernity. The relatively few performances of this premiere run should presage an early revival"

Keith Bruce, The Herald

"Then there is MacRae’s music, which is one of his most evocative and effusive scores to date. Out of the long and comfortable working relationship he has established with Welsh – this is their fourth project together – comes a sense of ease and adventure, music that flits effortlessly between feverishly dissonant melodrama, luscious soundscapes and tender arioso"

Ken Walton, The Scotsman

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