English Touring Opera return to Hackney Empire on 8 March with a new Thomas Guthrie production of The Barber of Seville. It's followed in swift succession by a revival of their acclaimed Eugene Onegin from 2007, a show I never got to see, that apparently "sheds more light on Tchaikovsky's masterpiece than any other recent UK production". After that they're off round the country for a few weeks, taking in venues from Truro to Perth.
Both works will be sung in English, which is sure to get some opera lovers hot under the collar. But ETO's General Director James Conway argues that effective comic timing inThe Barber of Seville depends on immediacy - and he's not keen on English singers tackling the difficulties of Russian. Casts are mostly young, mostly British, and include the 2011 Kathleen Ferrier award winner Kitty Whately as Rosina.
ETO is one of the lucky few organisations whose Arts Council funding increased in the last round, but earlier cuts mean they're still far from flush. Despite this, Hackney Empire seats have been kept at at very reasonable £10 to £32, which has to be the best opera bargain in the capital. For the same price as pub opera, you get a full staging and good (occasionally outstanding) singers - and a decent-sized orchestra instead of some dodgy old piano too.
If that doesn't appeal, in the autumn there's another tour, with a focus on modern and less familiar works. The London stop is the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio, and partners the Aurora Orchestra will be keeping musical standards high. Three broadly contemporaneous chamber pieces - Britten's Albert Herring, Peter Maxwell Davies's The Lighthouse and Viktor Ullmann's The Emperor of Atlantis - have been picked for their theatricality and variety.