In review: The Devil Inside Ben McAteer (James) and Rachel Kelly (Catherine) in The Devil Inside, Scottish Opera, 2016. Photo by Bill Cooper.

In review: The Devil Inside

Greg Finney

Thursday night at The Harbourfront Centre was the place to be. Tapestry Opera brought in their friends Scottish Opera to present The Devil Inside (libretto by Louise Welsh, music by Stuart MacRae), a distinctly modern take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Bottle Imp”.

Originally produced by Scottish Opera in conjunction with Music Theatre Wales, The Devil Inside tells the story of Richard and James, two young men who in seeking refuge while hiking, stumble upon a grand house with an eccentric old man hell-bent on unloading an antique bottle he claims to contain a wish-granting Imp. Richard convinces James to splurge their last $50 to buy the bottle from the old man who promptly asks them to hit the road.

Oh yeah, and like all good wish-based fairy tales, there’s a caveat. If you die in possession of this bottle, your soul is damned to hell for all time; if you sell it, you must sell it for less than you paid for it.

Two hours and a bunch of bad decisions later, we find the characters in a very interesting predicament. I won’t spoil the show for you, but trust me, it’s gooooooooood!

Ben McAteer and Nicholas Sharratt in *The Devil Inside*, Scottish Opera, 2016. Photo by Bill Cooper.

Playing the roles of the childhood-best-friends-turned-business-partners-of-the-damned were tenor Nicholas Sharratt as Richard and baritone Ben McAteer as James. Sharratt sang with a hearty young tenor that carried quite smooth and delicious line. He sang some incredibly difficult music lyrically and carried the opening of Act II with an extended aria that almost encompassed the whole first scena. His acting chops were equally up to the challenge in portraying the tormented Richard and showing this young man’s rise and fall to/from grace.

Ben McAteer (the John Mather Charitable Trust Scottish Opera Emerging Artist, 201516) was definitely the highlight of our night. He sang with a modern, contemporary sound that cut through the ample orchestra and over some extremely dramatic scoring for the pit. His range was astounding and the ease of production was inspiring. You really found yourself in his corner as well, and felt very invested in him overcoming the curse of the Imp.

Baritone Steven Page playing the Old Man (and the Vagrant in the second act) sang with a hearty, rich tone that he coloured beautifully and when coupled with his brilliant physicalisation, he was a lesson in character singing. Bravo, Mr. Page. Bravo.

Mezzo soprano Rachel Kelly as James’s wife Catherine sang with a full lyric tone, that blossomed gloriously over the top of her range. Watching her character go from her first entrance as James’s new client to the catalyst for the finale ultimo was a thrilling ride. Her portrayal was strong, clear, nuanced and fresh - and her beautiful voice and remarkable control was exhilarating.

Steven Page (the Vagrant) in The Devil Inside, Scottish Opera, 2016. Photo by Bill Cooper.

The pit was filled with the Players of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera. Led by Michael Rafferty, MacRae’s score was creative and modern without being unaccessable. There were some incredible colours created - at one point the violin section put their violins down and picked up harmonicas, and I definitely saw the percussionist doing the whole air-release-from-a-balloon-squeal-thing we all used to do as children to annoy our parents. His treatment of Welsh’s libretto was sensitive to both the audiences needs and the singers’, showing off some amazing ranges while still be able to understand the text even in extreme registers. There were times when I thought that the orchestra was a little too present in the overall listening, but I think that’s more attributed to their exposed location in the house at the Harbourfront Theatre.

Rachel Kelly (Catherine) in The Devil Inside, Scottish Opera, 2016. Photo by Bill Cooper.

Samal Blak’s design was colourful characters on a monochromatic canvas. There was a two-dimensionality to the design that helped throw into relief the complex layering of the character’s thought processes while dealing with the ability to have your wishes granted. There was a sort of “Triplettes de Belleville” told from the streets of 1980s New York City vibe going on in my eyes when seeing this great design. Rorsharch even makes an appearance in the second act. At points coupled with the score, you could almost imagine this was a dark, Disney-animated movie for adults.

I have to give a shout-out to the use of the orchestra to represent the voice of the Imp. It was remarkable to hear the pit go from a sequenced, well-thought out, structured modern score to dissolving into a sort of choatic cacophony that resolves itself as the Imp grants another wish, bringing the bottle owner closer yet to his doom.

Congratulations to Michael Mori, Aristic Director of Tapestry Opera and the whole team over there in the Distillery District. This is definitely another win.

The show runs at the Harbourfront Theatre until the 13th. Go and see it. Don’t be one of the only people who missed out on (in our opinion) one of the most creative operas seen on Toronto stages this season. You can get your tickets here, or follow our box office links below.

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