ELLEN Kent has been touring opera and ballet to the Playhouse for more than a decade now. Always accessible, always spectacular and always with an eye for the unexpected, her productions have consistently proved popular with audiences.
Next week, she returns with the celebrated Chisinau National Opera & Philharmonic Orchestra, and a programme of three of the world’s most popular operas - Aida, Nabucco and La Boheme.
As a series, it’s an ideal introduction for those unfamiliar with the art form, she believes. So which would offer the novice the best experience?
“I would suggest go and see all three because you will get a fantastic taste of three quite different types of opera,” she says.
“Aida is the blockbuster title, the epic, Cecil B DeMille production with huge sets and special effects and a story that effects a nation.
“Nabucco is for the specialist market but is still very spectacular and has one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of music ever written – Va Pensiero better known as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.
“La Boheme is a much smaller story in a way and you see characters who have little effect on the rest of the world but who live large in their own way – the gentlest of the three.”
For opera-lovers, it’s the opportunity to remind themselves how great these works are.
“I think my audience expects certain things from one of my shows. They are very discerning,” says Kent, when asked about her ongoing success.
“A lot of opera companies have moved into modernising the great classics, but I provide something very true to the way they were originally performed – again it is what my audiences respond to.
“I do like to inject a bit of local interest - in La Boheme, we are using local brass bands in the Act 2 market scene. Local dance and theatre schools provide dancers for Aida. I suppose it goes back to bringing the audience that something extra.”
Ellen Kent presents Chisinau National Opera & Philharmonic Orchestra, Playhouse, Greenside Place, Nabucco, Thursday 13 / La Boheme, Friday 14 / Aida, Saturday 15 March, £10-£35, 0844-871 3014
VERDI’s Aida is known as the grandest of all operas.
FIRST performed in Cairo in 1871, this four-act opera tells a story of war, jealousy and revenge. At its heart lies the doomed love of the beautiful Ethiopian slave girl, Aida, and the Egyptian hero, Radames: The Egyptians have enslaved Aida. Egyptian military commander, Radamès, struggles to choose between his love for her and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. To complicate matters, the Pharaoh’s daughter, Amneris, is in love with Radames.
Traditionally staged, the Chisinau National Opera’s lavish production includes a spectacular ballet sequences, stunning sets inspired by the Valley of the Kings and costumes taken from designs found in tomb paintings. Korean soprano Elena Dee sings the title role.
“I choose my soloists very carefully; the sets and costumes are all very lavish and evocative and there is always something extra to surprise the audience,” says Kent.
VERDI’S Nabucco is best know for the haunting Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.
NABUCCO is a powerful tale of revenge, destruction and jealousy, which premiered at La Scala, in Milan, in 1842.
It charts the plight of the Jews as they are conquered and then exiled from their homeland by the Babylonian King Nabucco.
Sung in Italian with English surtitles, it features the celebrated Chisinau National Opera Chorus.
Kent recalls, “Nabucco was the first opera I ever produced. I was asked to provide a centrepiece to be performed in the grounds of Rochester Castle.
“Of course, it absolutely rained cats and dogs, but the audience sat through the wind and the rain and gave a standing ovation at the end. It was the start of everything.”
PUCCINI’S La Boheme is one of the most romantic operas ever written.
SUNG in Italian with English surtitles, it tells the tragic tale of the doomed, consumptive Mimi and her love for a penniless writer. This classic tale of Parisian love and loss features many famous arias including Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen, They Call Me Mimi and Muzetta’s Waltz.
Rodolfo, a poet, shares his room in Paris with his Bohemian friends, Marcello, a painter, Schaunard, a musician and Colline, a philosopher. Together they scrape along, joking about their poverty as they bid for commissions.
On Christmas Eve, Mimi, a seamstress, knocks on their door. She needs a light for her candle, which has blown out. Rodolfo immediately falls in love with the fragile Mimi.
First performed in Turin in 1896, La Boheme is today, one of the most staged operas worldwide.
“I love Puccini,” says Kent. “He wrote La Boheme and some of it actually reflects his own experiences. His own life was very dramatic - like an opera – and I think you can feel his own passions in the music.