Brian Bannatyne-Scott

Brian Bannatyne-Scott, Bass

Pacific Opera Victoria
Falstaff in Falstaff

October, 2013

Interview with Robert Holliston

Brian Bannatyne-Scott made his Pacific Opera Victoria debut in 2010 as the Theatre Director La Roche in POV's Canadian stage première of Richard Strauss's Capriccio. Mr. Bannatyne-Scott returns in 2013 for the title role of Verdi's Falstaff – a role he has previously performed with Theater Bielefeld in Germany.

Since making his debuts at Teatro la Fenice, Venice and the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma in 1981 in Castiglioni's Oberon, Brian Bannatyne-Scott has appeared at many of the major Opera Houses of the world. He has sung at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, under the baton of Sir Colin Davis, at both the Opéras de Paris, at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels, the Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam, the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, with Trevor Pinnock, the Bunkamura Theatre, Tokyo, with Marc Minkowski, the Opéra de Lyon, with René Jacobs, the opera of Sao Paolo, Brazil, and numerous other theatres around Europe.

In Britain, he has worked with Scottish Opera (Colline in La Bohème, La Roche in Capriccio, Don Fernando in Fidelio, Der Sprecher in Die Zauberflöte); Opera North (Snug in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Varlaam in Boris Godunov); English National Opera (Monterone in Rigoletto, the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Banquo in Macbeth, Pogner in Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg, the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos; and made his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2004 as Luther in Les Contes d'Hoffmann.

Roles include Wotan (Longborough Festival Opera) Pogner (ENO), Arkel in Pelléas et Mélisande (Opéra du Rhin, Strasbourg, Opera Holland Park), Banquo (ENO), Geronte di Ravoir in Manon Lescaut (Grand Théâtre de Genève, Opéra de Nancy, Opera North), Le Spectre d'Hector in Les Troyens (Teatro alla Scala, Milan and Barbican Hall, London), Fafner in The Ring (City of Birmingham Touring Opera, and the Limerick Ring Cycle), Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte (Opéra de Nantes), Swallow in Peter Grimes (Opéra de Nantes, Opera North), Parson in The Cunning Little Vixen (Bregenz Festival), Priam in Les Troyens (Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam), Peachum in The Beggar's Opera (Opéras de Caen and Rouen), Silvano in La Calisto (Opéras de Lyon and Montpellier), Araspe in Handel's Tolomeo (Opernhaus Halle and Opernhaus Dessau), Pistola in Falstaff (Opéras de Nancy, Caen and Lausanne), Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier (Theater Bielefeld); Der Tod in Der Kaiser von Atlantis (Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels, theatres in Liege, Antwerp, Sarajevo and Lisbon, and Mecklenburg Opera), Die Mutter in Die Sieben Todsünden (Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels, Oslo and the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam), El Tio Salvaor in La Vida Breve (Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels), Crespel in Les contes d'Hoffmann and Talpa in Il Tabarro (Opera de Lyon); and Mozart's Bartolo (Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels, Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, Bermuda Festival and Tokyo).

Recent and upcoming appearances include Peachum in The Threepenny Opera at the West Green House Opera in Hampshire with the London Philharmonic Orchestra; Reinmar von Zweter in Tannhäuser at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, London; Hubbard in John Adam's Doctor Atomic with the Opéra du Rhin in Strasbourg; and engagements at the Metropolitan Opera.

Other recent performances include Hobson in Peter Grimes (Brussels, Valencia and Bilbao), le Poete in Orphée (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden), multiple roles in Shostakovich's The Nose (Opera de Nantes/Angers), and Trulove in The Rake's Progress (Nantes, Angers, and Rennes). In 2009, Brian had a huge success with further performances of Capriccio in Bielefeld, and spent the summer working on the role of Hagen in Götterdämmerung with Seattle Opera. He opened the 2009/2010 Season at Theater Bielefeld, singing the title role in Verdi's Falstaff to great critical and public acclaim and returned for the first time in many years to Glasgow to sing the title role in Handel's Saul with the Dunedin Consort and the University of Glasgow.

Mr. Bannatyne-Scott's concert career has taken him throughout Europe, and to Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Israel, Singapore, the Philippines and Japan. He has performed regularly with Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert including his debut at the Salzburg Festival as Polyphemus in Acis and Galatea, Aeolus and Cold Genius in King Arthur in Berlin, Halle, Opéra Garnier Paris, the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires and in the London Proms, Bach's B Minor Mass in Turin and Cremona and the St Matthew Passion at the National Arts Center, Ottawa. With Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre, he has performed Messiah in Grenoble and Paris, and with The King's Consort and the Salzburger Bachchor, he has sung Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

Brian Bannatyne-Scott has sung the role of Christus in Arvo Pärt's Passio throughout Europe and in Japan with the Hilliard Ensemble, most recently in King's College Chapel, Cambridge. He has also sung Stravinsky's Les Noces with the London Sinfonietta and Sir Simon Rattle at the Festival Hall, London. Also with Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, he has sung Schönberg's Gurrelieder in Birmingham.

With Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra, he has sung in Berlioz's The Trojans and in Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Barbican Hall, where he has also appeared with the London Symphony Orchestra and Mikhail Pletnev in Mozart's C Minor Mass. With the Philharmonia Orchestra, he has sung Leonard Bernstein's Songfest conducted by Leonard Slatkin in the Festival Hall.

He has sung in most of the British Cathedrals in a repertoire ranging from J.S. Bach and Georg Frideric Handel through Verdi and Elgar to Benjamin Britten and Maxwell Davies and has appeared in major festivals throughout Britain and Europe including Edinburgh, Salzburg, Holland, Bath, Flanders, Beaune and Aix-en-Provence, and he has sung frequently at the BBC Proms.

Recordings include Messiah and King Arthur (Deutsche Grammophon), L'Incoronazione di Poppea (Virgin), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Decca), The Cunning Little Vixen (ORF), Tolomeo (Mondo Musica) and Sir John in Love (Chandos).

Brian Bannatyne-Scott was born and educated in Edinburgh and studied French and Mediaeval History at St Andrews University before attending the Guildhall School of Music in London. In 1981, he won the Decca Kathleen Ferrier Prize. He has studied with Laura Sarti, Sir Peter Pears, Galina Vishnevskaya, Hans Hotter and Norman Bailey, and now works with Anthony Roden.

Coming into the cast at short notice, Brian Bannatyne-Scott offered a consummate and witty portrait of the materialistic yet dedicated theater director La Roche.
Bernard Jacobson, Musicweb International, Pacific Opera Victoria's Capriccio (2010).

Hero's laurels go to the bass, Brian Bannatyne-Scott, who was flown in from his native Edinburgh, a week into rehearsals, to play the stage director La Roche after the singer originally engaged fell ill. Vocally and physically, he gives an exuberant account of this larger-than-life "field marshal of the stage," combining Wellesian bluster with goofy charm. His long solo near the end is a tour de force.
Kevin Bazzana, Times Colonist, Pacific Opera Victoria's Capriccio (2010).

Brian Bannatyne-Scott ist genau die richtige Besetzung für einen Sir John Falstaff. Mit Leidenschaft und Hingabe verkörpert er die Rolle und überzeugt mimisch wie auch durch seine beeindruckende Stimmengewalt ... Er meistert schwierige Intervallsprünge ebenso gekonnt wie die dynamischen Anforderungen seiner Partie.
[Brian Bannatyne-Scott is exactly the right choice for a Sir John Falstaff. With passion and dedication, he embodies the role with convincing facial expressions and impressive vocal power ... He masters difficult interval leaps as skilfully as the dynamic challenges of his role.]
Operapoint, Bielefeld Stadttheater, Falstaff (2009)

Below: Brian Bannatyne-Scott sings Ibert's Chanson de la Mort de Don Quichotte in a recital in the Reid Hall, Edinburgh on 29th January 2013 with Jan Waterfield (Piano).


Meet Falstaff

Robert Holliston interviews Brian Bannatyne-Scott

You have performed a wide range of roles and repertoire – from Purcell to newly composed works and everything in between. Did you set out to achieve this diversity or has it simply been a matter of accepting what was offered?

The wide range of roles largely came about due to circumstance. I enjoyed early music and sang a fair bit at University, and at the start of my career I sang as a member of the Scottish Early Music Consort, covering Medieval to Baroque, while also singing opera from Cavalli to Castiglione.

In the late 80s, I began to sing a lot of Russian music, but the fall of Communism brought hundreds of excellent Russian singers to the West, blocking that route.

I signed up in 1989 with an agency in London which specialized in early music, so while singing mainstream opera with ENO, I also became known as a Baroque singer, working particularly closely with Trevor Pinnock and Marc Minkowski, who preferred their basses to have full-throated voices, rather than the, at the time, trendy light baritone. It helped that, even with my big voice, I could sing fast coloratura.

More recently, I have been singing more high Romantic music like Strauss, Wagner, Debussy and Verdi – that is largely due to my voice maturing into these roles.

Not having perfect pitch, and not being much of a fan of avant-garde music, I have tended to avoid new compositions, but have taken on the occasional role as a sort of challenge, like the Father in Thanks to my Eyes by Bianchi, and I will sing my first John Adams role, Frank Hubbard in Doctor Atomic, next year in Strasbourg.

The UK has always been known and admired for its rich choral tradition. Did you sing a lot in church as a boy, or in a school choir?

The question of UK choral tradition is a microcosm of the present Independence debate in Scotland. The tradition of church and cathedral choirs in England is long and well-known but had no real impact on me as a Scot. Church choirs in Scotland tend to be of the elderly wobbling variety (I exaggerate obviously) and played no part in my musical education. I did go to a very musical school in Edinburgh, and was encouraged from early on to sing in the choir.

However, as my voice changed and as cricket became more important to me, choral singing became less interesting, and it was only at St. Andrew's University that I learned to sing Renaissance polyphony while developing my voice as a soloist. Very many of my English colleagues however have emerged through the English choral tradition.

I was very interested to see that you majored at University in French and Medieval history. Did you decide as a young adult to switch to music as a profession? Also, do you still have an active interest in history?

My studies at university were always geared toward my academic interests rather than toward a profession. By 17 or 18, I knew I wanted to be a singer, provided I was good enough. My parents and school teachers advised me to delay thinking about music college until I had reached my 20s, so I decided to go to university to broaden my knowledge. The Scottish education system has always encouraged diversity.

All this time, I continued to have singing lessons in Glasgow, and when I was 23, I studied singing full time at the Guildhall School of Music in London. This allowed me to emerge straight from Guildhall into the profession, where I won the Decca Kathleen Ferrier Prize, appeared in televised masterclasses with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, made my debut at La Fenice in Venice, and joined Scottish Opera as a principal singer.

However, my degree in French and History has meant that I work a lot in Francophone countries and enjoy exploring historical sights wherever I travel, rather than shopping and watching TV!

Would you care to discuss your thoughts about Falstaff? Is there anything particularly rewarding and/or challenging about Verdi's writing for your voice type?

Falstaff is one of the most rewarding roles anyone can wish for, and I am delighted I can share my interpretation with the good folks of Victoria.

I first heard the opera in my teens and remember being fascinated by the piece and listening to lots of recordings.

I suppose because I became a bit of a German Romantic at that time (obsessed with Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler), it was natural that, of Verdi's output, the later operas attracted me more, since, although not really influenced by Wagner, they tended toward a more through-composed style. I loved Don Carlo (it also has two great bass roles), and Otello was and still is one of my very favourite works.

What I loved about Falstaff was its zest and bubbling enthusiasm, and that an old man could produce such an optimistic piece. I sang Pistola (the bass role in Falstaff) several times in England, France, and Switzerland in enjoyable productions with some superb singers and conductors (including Vancouver's Jonathan Darlington), but never really considered the title role, as it is a baritone.

It was only after singing Ochs (Rosenkavalier) and La Roche (Capriccio) in Bielefeld (Germany) that the music director asked if I'd like to sing Falstaff himself.

People had always suggested that my liking for good food and wine made me a natural for the role (Hoho), but after some thought and a sing through, I decided I would give it a go.

The result surprised me, and I found that, although it is higher than my other roles, it sits reasonably well in my voice.

I have always been a bright high bass, so it wasn't such a huge leap. It also helps that the other baritone role in Falstaff, Ford, is a real Verdi baritone, so a contrast between the two voices is useful and makes for a better relationship between the two characters.

So the challenge of the role is that it is high, and the reward is to be able to sing it!!

In closing ...

I am looking forward enormously to my return to Canada and Victoria. The added pleasure is that my wife (whom I met nearly 40 years ago at St Andrew's University) will be coming to Victoria on October 15th for her first visit to Canada.

Brian Bannatyne-Scott as Falstaff, Bielefeld, Germany, 2009


At left:
Brian Bannatyne-Scott as Falstaff
Theater Bielefeld, Germany, 2009


August 2013