I AM greeted warmly into the beautiful West End of Glasgow home of internationally acclaimed opera director Sir David McVicar. Firstly, by the director’s welcoming committee of three miniature schnauzers (or “the boys”, as McVicar and his husband, the leading opera choreographer Andrew George, call their charming, little dogs), and then by the man himself.

“Do we shake hands or bump elbows?” I ask, unsure of where McVicar (who was knighted for services to opera in 2012) stands on Covid protocols in the wake of Glasgow’s recent release from level 3 lockdown. “We hug,” he says, embracing me with the kind of enthusiastic bonhomie one might expect of Sir John Falstaff, the larger-than-life comic figure who is at the heart of McVicar’s latest production.

The director’s faith in the vaccination programme (he has, he assures me, been double dosed) is encouraging. Likewise, his palpable passion for his ­forthcoming staging of Verdi’s last opera Falstaff, which McVicar is directing in a co-production for Scottish Opera and Santa Fe Opera in the United States.

The show, which (in the absence of ­surtitles) will be performed in English translation, will premiere early next month, in a covered outdoor auditorium in the car park of Scottish ­Opera’s ­Glasgow studios. In August, it will transfer to Edinburgh’s splendid Festival Theatre, where it will play to, no doubt, carefully physically distanced audiences at the ­Edinburgh International Festival. Finally, in the summer of next year, the production will travel to the desert of New Mexico to play in Santa Fe Opera’s outdoor theatre.

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How, I wonder, did McVicar alight upon this opera for his Covid-era return to live performance? Verdi’s swansong, which is based upon Shakespeare’s ­recurring scandalous aristocrat (who ­appears in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and also in The Merry Wives of Windsor), was not his choice, the director explains, but Scottish Opera’s.

Part of the thinking, McVicar suspects, would have been practical. Performing in a makeshift, outdoor auditorium, as ­Scottish Opera did with Puccini’s La bohème last September, places considerable restrictions on the company.

“We still can’t get the chorus on stage,” says the director. “Chorus involvement in Falstaff is quite minimal. So, I think it was probably a practical choice.”

There is also a very solid artistic reason for selecting the opera, McVicar suggests. “A big motivation is that they’ve got ­Roland Wood on their doorstep,” he comments, referring to the excellent, Scotland-based English baritone who was so memorable in the role of Marcello in La bohème last autumn.

The director suspects that Scottish Opera’s general director Alex Reedijk and music director Stuart Stratford had Wood in mind when they decided upon Falstaff. McVicar himself thinks the ­baritone is a perfect fit for such a hefty lead role.

“In Scotland we’ve got this simply ­sensational baritone who I adore,” he says. McVicar first worked with Wood on Umberto Giordano’s opera Andrea Chénier, at the Royal Opera House in London in 2015.

The pair also worked together on ­Scottish Opera’s production of Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande in 2017. These collaborations have given the director the highest regard for the singer.

“The voice is stunning, and the intelligence, and his commitment,” McVicar comments. Taking up the opportunity to work with the baritone again on the Verdi was, he says, “a no brainer”.

The choice of Falstaff may have been made by Scottish Opera’s management, but the show’s development into a co-production with Santa Fe Opera was “pure happenstance”, the director explains. As fortune would have it, prior to Scottish Opera’s invitation to direct Verdi’s piece, Santa Fe had asked McVicar to direct the same opera for them.

The New Mexico gig was put on hold as a consequence of the pandemic. When, after some months of “radio silence”, the Americans got back in touch, the ­Scottish Opera show was already in the planning stage.

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The obvious thing to do, the director says, was to suggest a co-production. ­Santa Fe agreed and, suddenly, what Scottish Opera had envisaged as something of a shoestring production took on entirely grander possibilities.

The original idea for the Scottish ­Opera production was “very small”, says ­McVicar. It was, he explains, a case of “we’re going to raid the store and use whatever we have to hand.”

However, now that the show has the resources of a co-production, “it’s turned into something really glamorous”. The person ensuring that glamour is ­McVicar himself, as he is designing, as well as ­directing, the show.

“In getting live opera back on track in Scotland, I just want to be as glamorous as we can be,” he insists. “I just want it to be gorgeous.”

This is not McVicar’s first foray into outdoor opera. He has directed twice, he tells me, for the Savonlinna outdoor opera festival in Finland.

“You’re performing outdoors in the courtyard of a castle…

“It’s actually one of my favourite places to work, because the whole thing is awesome. You don’t need a set, you just use the castle, the doors and the staircases.”

Thanks to his experience in Savonlinna, he is, he says, “pretty clued up” where outdoor opera is concerned. “So, when the gig came up at Scottish Opera, I wasn’t fazed at all. I was like, ‘Yeah, I know exactly how to do that’.”

Unlike his work in Finland, McVicar’s Falstaff is al fresco as a matter necessity, rather than choice. Likewise, his decision to design the production himself, which is, he explains, “because of lockdown”.

“I simply didn’t have access to my designers,” he comments. Most of the designers he works with are based in London or continental Europe. It was ­impossible, he says, to have the meetings he needed for the design process. For design purposes, online video calls were not going to do the job.

McVicar has designed productions in the past. “The reason I don’t design ­often,” he says, “is because of the time that it takes to do fittings, to fit singers, to visit workshops and so on. It is an unbelievably time consuming process.”

Needs must during a pandemic, ­however, and McVicar the opera designer has returned to the drawing board with enthusiasm. “I went to Glasgow School of Art,” he says. “I can draw, I ­understand costumes, I can design.”

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That McVicar can design is not in any question. Scottish Opera audiences might remember that his famous flair for visual aesthetics was brought to bear on the ­design for Pelléas and Mélisande four years ago. Designer Rae Smith was ­taken ill, and McVicar, who was ­directing, stepped into the breach.

THE director was kind enough to give me a sneak peek at some of his Falstaff costume designs. Whilst it would be a crime to give away any of his secrets, it’s fair to say that the show (costumed as for Elizabethan England, when The Merry Wives of Windsor was first published) looks set to live up to McVicar’s desire for delicious spectacle.

The set design has been blessed with serendipitous coincidence. Santa Fe ­Opera’s outdoor theatre is, the ­director explains, “exactly the same” as the ­Covid-era marquee in which Scottish ­Opera performs in Glasgow.

How, I wonder, will the set translate on to the huge stage at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh? “Don’t know yet,” the director replies, with a smile and a ­sanguine gesture.

The Edinburgh Festival shows were, McVicar says, “the last piece of the jigsaw to come in,” months after the piece was planned as an outdoor co-production for Glasgow and Santa Fe. He is, however, relaxed about Scottish Opera finding the right technical solution where the ­Festival Theatre shows are concerned.

It was when he had to take up the reins, design-wise, on Pelléas and Mélisande that the director first “came into incredibly close contact with the technical staff at Scottish Opera”. He realised very quickly, he recalls, that the technical team is world class.

In fact, McVicar, who supports independence for Scotland, and enquired about my pro-indy credentials early in our conversation, is so enthusiastic about our national opera company that he has to insist that his views are professional, rather than patriotic.

“I’m not just being nationalist here, in my professional experience… the artistic standards at Scottish Opera are the best.

“The team is tiny, but the commitment to the project is nonpareil. It is exceptional the lengths these people will go to because they give a f***.”

This is high praise indeed from one of the biggest names in world opera. McVicar has worked, he points out, “at the Metropolitan Opera [in New York], at La Scala, Milan, in Tokyo, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,” yet he has yet to encounter a more ­professional operation than that which currently ­prevails at Scottish Opera.

“The people of Scotland need to know” how good their national opera company is, he says. “Nicola Sturgeon needs to know. It’s an outstanding artistic operation.”

Falstaff plays at Scottish Opera’s Glasgow studios, July 3-17 and Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, August 8-14. For more details, visit: scottishopera.org.uk