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Byre Opera

Pelleas and Melisande (2020)

In 2020 Byre Opera will be performing a new chamber version of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (orchestral reduction by Matthew Rooke, translation by Janice Galloway) in St Andrews, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Glasgow and London. PJ Harris will be returning to direct this production, which will also feature set and lighting design by Victor Labarthe d'Arnoux, costumes by Antonin Boyot Gellibert and movement direction by Liz Ranken; Michael Downes will conduct. We would be pleased to hear from from singers of any voice type who are interested in taking part in this production.

Auditions will take place on Weds 30 October between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. To book an audition, please call in to the Music Centre office in the Younger Hall, call (01334) 462226 or email For any enquiries about these auditions, future productions or the company's work in general, please contact either Michael Downes or Jonathan May

Performance dates for Pelleas and Melisande will be as follows:

Friday 19 and Saturday 20 June, Byre Theatre, St Andrews

Tuesday 23 June, Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow

Friday 26 and Saturday 27 June, Maltings Theatre, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Wednesday 1 July, Greenwood Theatre, 55 Weston St, Bermondsey, London SE1 3RA

About Byre Opera

Byre Opera, the Music Centre's opera company, presents professionally directed, high-quality opera in St Andrews and beyond. The company’s singers are drawn mainly from the undergraduate and postgraduate student bodies, but casts have also included young professionals, University staff, and local amateurs. Singers benefit from regular coaching from internationally renowned opera singers as well as the opportunity to work with professional directors, designers and orchestral musicians.

The company is named after its performing base in St Andrews' award-winning Byre Theatre, whose auditorium is ideally suited to intimate productions of small-scale opera. Productions have included Benjamin Britten's three ground-breaking chamber operas – Rape of Lucretia (2010), Albert Herring (2014), Turn of the Screw (2016) – as well as Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride (2015, in a new translation produced by St Andrews students), and chamber versions of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (2012) and Janácek's The Cunning Little Vixen (2017). Byre Opera regularly tours Scotland and collaborates closely with the Maltings Theatre in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where its last four productions have been warmly received. In 2018 Byre Opera made its London debut with Xerxes at the Priory Church of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell.


Praise for Byre Opera's 2019 production

For a company that is comprised overwhelmingly of amateurs, most of whom are students at the University of St Andrews, you could forgive Byre Opera for playing things safe with lots of Traviatas and Bohèmes. Not a bit of it. Their 2019 season consists of two one-act rarities, one of which is a European premiere, performed in a cavernous waterside factory that provides green energy to the university's buildings ...

They've assembled some remarkable young singers, especially Katherine Gunya, haunting as the grieving mother in Riders, and the glittering soprano of Caroline Taylor in Cupboard Love. It's a company effort, though, and all the more admirable for that. This show would be compelling under any circumstances but in the light of the performers' age and stage, it is pretty remarkable.

Simon Thompson, The Times (****)

The decade-long musical adventure of St Andrews University’s Byre Opera took another bold step with this off-site double bill of 20th century chamber works staged in the Biomass Energy Plant on the shoreline four miles away, part of the ongoing development of the university that is also seeing an extension to the campus springing up next door.

If the location was partly about raising awareness of the forward momentum of the institution, it also spoke fascinatingly to the first half of the programme, Ralph Vaughan Williams' setting of almost the complete text of John Millington Synge’s play, Riders to the Sea. As the storm-door closed noisily behind the audience, following Fanny Empacher’s mournful trad fiddle prelude, the parallel roller-shutter behind the playing area opened to reveal the 21st century technology the building houses as a backdrop to the bleak tale of a mother losing her sons to elements. With Empacher and opera novice Rachel Munro also impressive as her daughters, mezzo Katherine Gunya was in superb voice as Maurya, the matriarch whose final aria sets one of the most famous expressions of Ireland’s complex pagan/Catholic heritage.

Anna Yates’s clever, adaptable wedge of staging was stripped of its covering of natural brackish shore foliage during the interval for what was the European premiere of Madeleine Dring’s Cupboard Love, a blackly comic modernist three-hander of sex and death from the 1940s. In director PJ Harris inventive staging, vivacious soprano Caroline Taylor and baritone Theodore Day were a besotted couple who recall the pair in Steven Berkoff’s Decadence, and Ross McArthur the camp, lively corpse of her husband, whose convenient demise is the mystery of Dan Aitken’s libretto. Dancers Flora Betts and Hanna Mirgorodschi, who embodied the waves in Liz Ranken’s choreography in the first half, were now eloquent disembodied hands and feet supplying props and stage pictures through trapdoors in the performance plinth.

This piece, perhaps too bold for its own time, is a real find, but, like the Vaughan Williams, a very demanding undertaking for all, not excepting musical director Claire Innes-Hopkins at the piano. With a tour of a new Janice Galloway translation of Pelleas et Melisande planned for 2020, Byre Opera’s adventure is one to watch.

Keith Bruce, The Herald (****)


Previous productions

Dring: Cupboard Love and Vaughan Williams (Riders to the Sea) 2019

Handel: Xerxes (2018)

SHINE: Science Meets Opera (with St Andrews Voices) (2018)

Janá?ek: The Cunning Little Vixen (2017)

Britten: The Turn of the Screw (2016)

Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride (2015)

Britten: Albert Herring (2014)

Handel: Acis and Galatea (2013)

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin (2012)

Eccles: The Judgment of Paris and Berkeley: A Dinner Engagement (2011)

Britten: The Rape of Lucretia (2010)

Monteverdi: Heaven or Hell? (Il ballo dell'ingrate) and Purcell: Dido and Aeneas (2009)

 ‌Riders to the Sea and Cupboard Love poster - 220 pixels wide?

Most Recent Photo Gallery

A testament to the quality of the music-making at St Andrews” Keith Bruce, The Herald
A huge round of applause to all concerned for putting on a production a professional company would have been proud of” Garry Fraser, The Courier
Fabulous young, fresh voices in sharp & witty production with @FitzwilliamQt & friends brilliantly conducted by inspirational Michael Downes. Highly recommendedDonald Macleod, Presenter of Composer of the Week on BBCRadio3