The Coronation of Poppea - English Touring Opera - Britten Theatre, 9 October 2013
What happens when rulers have absolute power? How far will they go when there are no limits? James Conway's production sets Monteverdi's opera in the explicitly political context of Stalin's Soviet Union.
Jason - English Touring Opera - Britten Theatre, 4 October 2013
Giasone or Jason, Cavalli's greatest hit emerges trimmed and translated as a witty commentary on fidelity in English Touring Opera's new production.
Substantial cuts have shorn the Golden Fleece from the tale, not to mention the Argonauts. Jason pursues Medea while his wife Isiphile waits for him at home. When fate brings his mistress and his wife together, Jason's cowardly choice is undone by the intervention of Medea's suitor Egeus. A happy ending ensues. None of this bears much relation to the myth it is based on, but it's miles funnier in Ted Huffman's pacey production.
English Touring Opera's autumn season begins tonight at the Royal College of Music with Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea (also on 9 Oct). This is the James Conway production as performed by RCM students a few months ago, but this time round the singers are professionals. There's also a rare chance to see Cavalli's Giasone (4, 5 and 10 Oct). Handel's Agrippina (8, 11 and 12 Oct) follows.
Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) - English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, 9 March 2013
L’assedio di Calais is one of those Donizetti operas that don't get many outings. The fault is not in the music, which with its many delightful ensemble pieces is no worse than his more popular works. However the gloomy subject (check the title) doesn't do it any favours. Neither does the (non-)story line (check the title again). The one and only moment of dramatic tension comes towards the end, when the besieged burghers have to decide whether to sacrifice six of their number to seal a peace deal with the beastly besiegers.
Così fan tutte - English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, 7 March 2013
English Touring Opera's new production of Mozart's most inscrutable opera relishes its confectionery charms but also hints at the darker undercurrents beneath. Emphasising the symmetries of the score, the young couples are upholstered in matching rococo finery like pairs of identical twins. Flanking the stage are the two mirror-image panels of Samal Blak's frugally efficient set.
Opera returns to east London. English Touring Opera's spring season opens on 2 March at Hackney Empire with Così fan tutte. Simon Boccanegra (an unfortunate clash with the opening of Written on Skin at the ROH) and Donizetti's The Siege of Calais follow.
All are new productions, with terrific casting, so it's not surprising that most of the best tickets have already been snapped up. Move swiftly if you want a stalls seat.
The Lighthouse - English Touring Opera - Linbury Studio, 11 October 2012
In 1900, an overdue supply ship pulled in at a remote lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides to discover that all three of its keepers had disappeared without trace. Their fate was never established. This real-life mystery is the source for Peter Maxwell-Davies's widely-performed 1980 chamber opera, The Lighthouse. Living at the time in a distant Orkney cottage without electricity or running water, Maxwell-Davies had no trouble imagining what the months of isolation might have done to the keepers' minds. Inspiration came swiftly; he wrote the libretto in two weeks, taking just another two for the 75 minutes of leanly-arranged music.
Christ lag in Todesbanden / The Emperor of Atlantis - English Touring Opera - Linbury Studio, 5 October 2012
ROH2 goodbye and good riddance. While the Royal Opera House themselves rarely come up with anything worthwhile to fill their Linbury stage, English Touring Opera have scored a win, yet again, with a striking and powerful double bill.
Victor Ullmann wrote Der Kaiser von Atlantis in 1944 while incarcerated in the Terezin concentration camp. Bizarrely, the authorities sanctioned and even encouraged cultural activities, though inevitably the idiosyncratic vocal and musical arrangements reflect the limited resources available.They were less keen on Ullmann's subject matter - a despotic Emperor who declares universal war, which provokes Death to go on strike.
Eugene Onegin - English Touring Opera - Hackney Empire, 9 March 2012
You don't need a load of fancy scenery to tell a story, as English Touring Opera's minimal but effective staging proves. First seen in 2007, James Conway's production employs little more than a large panel in the middle. Lit by turns as window, mirror and screen, it conjures up orchard and ballroom with surprising ease. Lavish period costumes provide eye candy for the sweet-toothed.
Where Deborah Warner's recent ENO Onegin started to go wrong was in creating vast, empty spaces in which to play out the opera's intimate drama. Here, everything is restored to its proper, human scale. Singing it in English only enhances that.
Daringly, there are no surtitles; fortunately, the ETO cast sing far more clearly than their ENO counterparts. That's no mean compliment when you consider the yards of fioriture involved. The experiment makes a powerful case for doing without. Comic timing is preserved. Attentiveness is obligatory - proper listening in other words. The translation sneaks in a few explanatory phrases where the original text doesn't quite follow the action, so it's ideal for newcomers (of which there were plenty in the Hackney audience).