Scottish Opera present The Telephone as part of Edinburgh International Festival's My Light Shines On series

This article is from 2020

Scottish Opera present The Telephone as part of Edinburgh International Festival's My Light Shines On series

credit: James Glossop

Daisy Evans adapts Gian Carlo Menotti's 1947 opera for the EIF's online programme

As one of the national arts companies taking part in Edinburgh International Festival's My Light Shines On series of video performances to mark the capital's quietest August in over 70 years, Scottish Opera have rather cleverly landed on Gian Carlo Menotti's opera, The Telephone. Many of us have lived much of our lives on our phones these past few months, with added ticks being the composer – aka Mr McNotti – residing latterly at Yester House, just outside Edinburgh, and writing this particular short opera in 1947, the year EIF came into being. Not that today's phone is anything like what it was then of course.

In adapting this one act romantic comedy for two singers and chamber orchestra, director Daisy Evans has updated it to 21st century Edinburgh. 'What's brilliant about The Telephone' she says, 'is that it translates really well to a contemporary setting and Menotti's score still comes through as the strongest thing. Part of my aesthetic is to create a modern feel and look, and I've been surprised how flexible it is.'

It tells of a young couple who've been together for a while, with the question about to be popped, if only the would-be fiancée would get off the phone. Preoccupation is due to Lucy posting a picture of the two of them as Ben is about to meet her, not on the stage of Edinburgh's King's Theatre, but in its bar. 'Part of the brief from EIF,' says Evans, 'was to highlight the venues they bring shows to. It would have been obvious to make a set, but then we thought why not use one of the front of house spaces, as if they're on a date.'

This relocation from a domestic setting, where the original phone would have needed to be plugged in, to a bar makes perfect sense with the story. 'It's very conversationally written,' says Fanshaw, 'with a lot of the singing as recitative, almost like speaking, and the look is hipstery, with an old school vibe.' Coronavirus restrictions meant, however, no singing in situ, with soprano Soraya Mafi and baritone Jonathan McGovern recording in sound-proof boxes.

Filming was, as Evans explains, 'all very new to me, but one of the great things about film is being able to cheat so much so that it looks like they are right next to each other, when actually far apart. Everything was thoroughly risk-assessed, costumes were sprayed down, rooms deep cleaned and even though made under extreme coronavirus times, it all looks very convincing. The last thing anyone wants is a new piece of art reminding them of how rubbish the last six months have been.'

The Telephone premieres on Edinburgh International Festival's YouTube Channel on Sat 8 Aug.