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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 June 2007, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Opera celebrates St Kilda history
Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

French dancers on St Kilda. Picture courtesy of St Kilda - A European Opera
Performers from French dance company, Retouramont, on St Kilda

The history of a remote Scottish island archipelago has been celebrated in an opera performed simultaneously at six venues across Europe.

St Kilda - A European Opera - cost £1.5m to put together and was performed in the Outer Hebrides, France, Belgium, Germany and Austria on Friday and Saturday.

During the performances, images were beamed to the venues via satellite.

Crew members left for St Kilda - 41 miles (65km) west of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides - by boat several days earlier because there was no guarantee that weather conditions would have allowed them to reach the islands this weekend.

The production was broadcast live online on BBC Alba between 2020 and 2145 BST on Friday.

The Gaelic Media Service is backing the project.

Malcolm Maclean, co-executive producer and co-creative director, said the cost of the opera has attracted criticism.

However, he said 80% had been sourced from Europe and he believed this commitment underlined the importance of the opera in the eyes of the European Commission.

The opera is based on an idea of Lew Bogdan, director of the Le Phénix in Valenciennes, France
The project is being led by Proiseact Nan Ealan - the Gaelic Arts Agency
The opera was written by Iain Finlay Macleod and the composers are Jean-Paul Dessy and David Graham

The productions share the same script, score, libretto and pre-filmed material.

The film features elements of a drama shot on St Kilda, archive footage and a dance performance using abseil ropes on cliffs by French dance company, Retouramont.

Outside of St Kilda, most of the work has been done in Stornoway.

Studio Alba in the town is one of the six venues.

Mr Maclean said: "This is a large production involving more than 300 people.

"It is not being done in a big city context. If we need something we can't just pick up the phone and get a taxi to get it from another theatre.

"This is being put together on an island."

The last residents left St Kilda in 1930
The National Trust for Scotland owns the archipelago
Its cliffs and stacs are important to seabirds such as fulmar, great skua and razorbill

Those behind the opera intend to leave a legacy - including a website, a DVD and an education pack.

But the project may also contribute to efforts to understand and tackle climate change.

Time-lapse footage has been shot on St Kilda for a year and has revealed some unusual weather conditions.

Mr Maclean said: "The images are absolutely stunning.

"This mist and cloud patterns are something out of Tolkien and are presumably due to global warming.

"One morning there was one level of mist all over the sea and another level of mist shrouding the island."

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