Yes, Edinburgh Studio Opera (ESO) are sometimes mistaken for the musical-performing company Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group (EUSOG), explains ESO’s president Flynn Le Brocq; but the ‘O’ in ESO stands for opera in the traditional sense.
For almost five decades, ESO have been aiming at bringing this high art of singing to the university community. The Edinburgh University Opera Club was founded in 1968, inspired by an equivalent at the University of Oxford. One of ESO’s founders was postgraduate student Roger Savage, who is now an honorary fellow at the University of Edinburgh. “We’ve met him recently, he is in his eighties now,” tells Samantha Redfern, ESO’s community outreach and alumni manager.
Creating and upholding bonds with former members is a priority for ESO – probably more so than in your common University of Edinburgh society. Redfern goes on to say that many former ESO members have made a career in music or opera: “When you Google the names of former members, you’ll often find out that they’ve written a book about opera, or that they’ve gone into teaching and so on.” Some, like the widely celebrated soprano Louise Alder, have even made it onto bigger stages, adds Le Brocq.
Alumni participation will also be central during the jubilee celebrations next January, which will consist of a concert at the Reid Concert Hall and a grand dinner at the Balmoral Hotel. “A lot of what we’re doing right now is gearing up for this big celebration,” explains Redfern. Once the celebrations are over, ESO will be just as busy preparing for the annual productions that will be performed in late February and early March.
This season, two relatively short operas are on the menu: Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. They will be performed at Assembly Roxy, which has been the venue for ESO productions since the remarkable success of Carmen in 2016 when tickets were sold out every night. “What’s great about Carmen is that it has a large chorus, so many people can get involved. And it has some very well-known tunes and appeals even to people who aren’t necessarily into opera otherwise,” says Le Brocq.
Choosing a widely appealing opera which offers enough roles, especially for young male voices, is one of the greatest challenges in the development process. Yet, Le Brocq and Redfern agree that these challenges must be overcome in order to cast off the distant, elitist and edgy image of opera; constant outreach efforts, as well as more socials and closer ties with other music societies, are equally important. The efforts seem to bear fruit, as auditions have increased over the past few years.
Overall, it seems like one need not worry about the near future of opera on campus.
Photo Credit: Edinburgh Student Opera