Friday 17 February 2023

Giulio Cesare, Lucrezia Borgia, Il viaggio a Rheims & two new operas for young people: looking forward to English Touring Opera's Spring tour

Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia - Thomas Elwin & Paula Sides in rehearsal (Photo Craig Fuller)
Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia - Thomas Elwin & Paula Sides in rehearsal - English Touring Opera(Photo Craig Fuller)

On Saturday 25 February 2023, English Touring Opera launches its Spring 2023 season with a revival of James Conway's production of Handel's Giulio Cesare at Hackney Empire. The tour lasts from 25 February to 29 May 2023 and involves around 80 performances across the country of five operas, Giulio Cesare alone is going to nine different venues.

The repertoire takes no prisoners and gives people the opportunity to hear some terrific music that is not often done. Besides the Handel opera, there is Rossini's Il viaggio a Rheims and Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, plus two operas aimed at children and young people, Noah Mosley and JL Williams' The Wish Gatherer and Lucy Treacher and Kate Wakeling's Zoo!.

I recently chatted to Francis Gush who sings the title role in Handel's Giulio Cesare and my interview with Francis will be published on Planet Hugill next week. James Conway's production of Giulio Cesare debuted in 2017, when the company daringly performed this famously long opera uncut over two evenings [see my review]. It was revived in a more standard edition in 2020 [see my review], but that tour was cut short so it is lovely to see this imaginative production returning. In the pit will be ETO's period instrument ensemble, the Old Street Band and they will be performing for both the Rossini and Donizetti operas, which will make for an interesting sound world and makes the tour that extra bit special

Rossini's late comedy, Il viaggio a Rheims was an occasional piece, written to celebrate the coronation of King Charles X in Rheims in 1825 (the story involves a group of travellers going to the coronation who get marooned at an inn). It has a large cast, each with a dazzling aria and after the initial run, Rossini recycled the music, much of it going into Comte Ory, and Il viaggio a Rheims was not heard again until the music was reconstructed in the 1970s and its first modern performance was in 1984. It is rarely done, Covent Garden staged it with Montserrat Caballe as the hotel owner (which tells you how long ago that was), and more recently the Jette Parker Young Artists gave a concert performance.

Considering the quality of the music, Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia is almost as ridiculously rare. It features a plot that it is easy to make fun of including a love duet between Lucrezia Borgia and a young man who, it later turns out, is her son. But there is terrific music. ENO had a go with Claire Rutter in the title role, terrific singing and unfortunate production by film directord Mike Figgis, whilst Covent Garden last did it with Joan Sutherland in the title role (which tells you how long ago that was!), and it has rather moved into Chelsea Opera Group territory. But it was the work that Caballe made her American debut in, a concert performance that effectively launched her career as a bel canto singer.

Aimed at 7 to 11-year-olds, Noah Mosley and JL Williams' The Wish Gatherer is the first of a trilogy of climate change operas being presented by ETO. Made in collaboration with Julie’s Bicycle, The Wish Gatherer will explore the impact of climate change on the natural world, in a national curriculum-linked adventure story. 

Lucy Treacher & Kate Wakeling: Zoo! - the cast in rehearsal - English Touring Opera
Lucy Treacher & Kate Wakeling: Zoo! - the cast in rehearsal - English Touring Opera

Lucy Treacher and Kate Wakeling's Zoo! is a new participatory opera for ages 2-5 and audiences with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. Full of adventure, singing and multi-sensory elements, Zoo! teaches us all about communication, confidence and how the most important thing in life is to be oneself. 

Full details from English Touring Opera's website.

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