Scottish Opera - Menotti: The Telephone - The Arts Desk

Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act comic opera The Telephone has never felt more relevant, despite being written in 1947, six decades before Apple introduced the iPhone. It tells the tale of Ben, a young man who wishes to propose to his fiancee Lucy before leaving for a long trip. They arrange to meet, where Ben plans to pop the question, though he can’t get a word in, as Lucy is constantly distracted by her phone. Filmed in the circle bar at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre, Lucy - phenomenally acted and sung by soprano Soraya Mafi - orders a cocktail and takes a couple of #instafriendly selfies as she waits for Ben, ardently sung by Jonathan McGovern.

In a comic modern twist, Lucy, enamoured with her phone, asks Ben if he wants to know the exact time. Of course, instead of calling 123 to reach the talking clock (which, if you’re wondering, does still actually work - I just tried it with my own smartphone earlier), she googles it, with some humorously apt suggested results coming up on screen. Another more moving 21st-century touch is when Lucy consciously leaves her charger behind the bar as she goes to run after Ben, who’s left her obliviously chatting away as he goes to catch his train. Under the baton of music director Stuart Stratford, the 24 players of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera who performed on this recording sound sharp and piquant, buoying the story as it speeds along.

This is a charming production, and a superb example of high quality art under Covid-19 conditions. Though it harnesses the power of digital technologies, it also is a much needed reminder that virtual connections should never be at the expense of real, human ones. Plus, at 25 minutes, it’s easily digestible to watch on your laptop screen - or even on your smartphone!

The Arts Desk
12 August 2020