****

Mareel, Lerwick
This new work from Glagsow’s NOISE, about the drama that ensues when an actor takes up with his brother’s new wife, is an appealing mix of accessible feisty

Hirda is a Shetland term for wreckage or mess, and there’s hirda of sorts to this new chamber opera, co-composed by Gareth Williams and fiddler Chris Stout to a libretto in broad dialect by Sian Evans. The story involves an actor who comes home to the islands for his brother’s wedding and, wearing a slick suit and with Los Angeles charm, seduces his new sister-in-law. A pair of ghosts circle in the background with unfinished 19th-century business. Whisky is drunk, hirda ensues.

As a piece of theatre, Hirda is no mess. It was commissioned by the Glasgow company NOISE, who aim to create nimble opera for new audiences. It’s as accessible as it was intended to be: Evans’s libretto is unfussy and uncluttered; and James Robert Carson directs with minimal stage faff. Carson also lets the cast shine: they’re a sparky, vocally ballsy young sextet comprising Laura Margaret Smith, Shuna Scott Sendall, Marie Claire Breen, Douglas Nairne, Andrew Dickinson and Jonathan Best. Characters are well drawn, their chemistry is believable and the accents are valiant. Premiering to a home crowd is the ultimate test, and the jokes (“If du canna get laid in Hamnavoe, du canna get laid at aw”) got genuine laughs in Lerwick.

The score blends rugged folk idioms with bright, propulsive postminimalism and it worked here, save a slip into schmaltzy slo-mo towards the end. Vocal lines are long drawn and simple; the real energy is in the instrumental ensemble, where textures build from Stout’s robust and expressive fiddle solos to an earthy band sound of string quartet, accordion, bass clarinet and piano. My favourite moments came when the strings alone played lithe and gutsy interludes. Williams conducts with shoulders and torso as much as arms – and he gets feisty playing in return.

 At Carnegie Hall, Sandwick, on 29 November. Box office: 01595 745 555. Then touring until 8 December.

Kate Molleson

Original article here: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/29/hirda-review-noise-opera