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Stink, death and Bedlam: English Touring Opera on the road

Scene from Manon Lescaut by English Touring Opera. Picture by Richard Hubert Smith
Scene from Manon Lescaut by English Touring Opera. Picture by Richard Hubert Smith

English Touring Opera travels to Durham’s Gala Theatre, Buxton Opera House and York Theatre Royal this spring with two productions: Manon Lescaut and The Rake’s Progress  both performed in English with surtitles.

The company also has an opera for children, The Great Stink, described as “an hilarious, fun-filled family show about poo… lots of it”. Victorian London and its smelly River Thames are brought to life by singers, musicians, puppets and interactive moments. Children also get to meet Queen Victoria, prime minister Disraeli and even Old Father Thames himself.

Written by Hannah Khalil and composed by Omar Shahryar, The Great Stink is the second in ETO’s series of operas about climate change and the environment, exploring water pollution and the way we dispose of sewage today. It’s directed by Valentina Ceschi and designed by Sam Wilde. Venues include Newcastle schools, Goole Library, York Theatre Royal and Acomb Library in York.

Manon Lescaut, whose story is from a scandalous 1731 novel by Antoine Francois Prevost, has been the source of more than one opera and ballet over the years, including an opera by Halevy (1830), Balfe’s The Maid of Artois (the English opera in which Maria Malibran had possibly her greatest-ever success, followed closely by her death at the age of 28 during the 1836 Manchester Music Festival), Auber’s opera (1856) and Massenet’s opera Manon in 1884. Kenneth Macmillan’s dance version for the Royal Ballet (1974) uses Massenet’s music and is now a repertory classic. Most versions (but not Massenet’s opera) have the central benighted love couple finally deported from France to America, where they die in (variously) the desert, or the swamps of Louisiana.

Puccini’s opera was a breakthrough hit for the composer in 1893: director Jude Christian brings a sharp new translation to his radical production, and ETO music director Gerry Cornelius conducts. Leading the cast are Jenny Stafford (Manon), Aidan Edwards (Lescaut), Gareth Dafydd Morris (Des Grieux), Edwardd Hawkins (Geronte) and Brenton Spiteri (Edmondo).

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is directed by Polly Graham of Longborough Festival Opera, with conductor Jack Sheen. It’s the cynical but sympathetic tale of a young man’s downfall, with libretto by WH Auden and Chester Kallman, based on Hogarth, with the hero ending in Bedlam (the hospital for the insane in London), first seen in 1951.


Opera performance dates: Durham – March 25-26; Buxton – April 4-6; York – April 19-20.

More info here


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