Two members of our Marketing and Communications team recently headed to London to join rehearsals of English Touring Opera (ETO), before their tour heads to Norwich Theatre Royal this month. We were blown away by the rehearsals, leaving London spell-bound by Cinderella (16 Oct 23) and awestruck with The Coronation of Poppea (17 Oct 23). This was the first experience of opera for my colleague, and what an introduction it was!
Our day began with an explanation of each production, starting with Cinderella. This iconic fairy tale has been carefully chiselled back down to its origin, an English translation of a comedic Italian opera. Think of this as the great-grandparent of the Disney tale we know and love. There are minor changes, such as an evil stepfather rather than stepmother, and a lost bracelet rather than shoe. Nonetheless, the tale is still recognisable and easy to follow, making it a great introduction to those who have never experienced an opera before.
The production includes a cast of 11, with Esme Bronwen-Smith taking centre stage as a mesmerising and refreshingly–contemporary Cinderella. All the singers are able to project their voices unamplified, displaying their impressive vocal athleticism. Being sat in such close quarters and witnessing such vocal power is extraordinary and something we certainly won’t forget. The show is sung in English and the language is easy to follow, with injections of contemporary phrases and sprinkles of fairy tale charm.
The overall production is bold, fast-moving and effortlessly comical. There is a vast amount of physical comedy throughout, brought to life with ample staging and immersive acting. What I love most about Cinderella is its ability to gracefully tread a line between inclusivity of recognisable fairy tale expectations and adding nuances to the characters and plot, making it ultimately more relatable for the contemporary audience. It was as if storybook characters had come to life in a modern world. This will make a fantastic introduction to opera, as most people will already be familiar with the plot, just let yourself be swept away by the unmatched vocals, quick wit and relatable characters.
We then headed to the rehearsals of The Coronation of Poppea, a tastefully–modernised adaptation of one of the earliest operas written. We were introduced to Nero, portrayed by the outstanding Martha Jones, and their lover, Poppea, played the equally exceptional, Jessica Cale. The pair were truly enchanting together, we were utterly entranced by their performance, vocals effortlessly bouncing off one another like birdsong. Like Cinderella, The Coronation of Poppea is sung in modern English. This translation pulls the production into the 21st century, keeping it relevant but also funny. Cross-dressing gods make mischief throughout, interfering with humans and getting up to plenty of silly games. My colleague and I found ourselves laughing out loud. We never knew opera could be so funny!
What ETO’s Director, Robin Norton-Hale, has so tastefully brought to The Coronation of Poppea is the human qualities to the characters, including the mischievous gods. The cast is intimate enough to let each character have their complexities. There are no specific baddies, everybody has their faults, enabling us to form emotional connections to the characters. Overall, it’s refreshing to hear a classic opera sung in English and have such inclusivity in character casting. The show is packed full of danger, well-timed comedy and several rather saucy scenes. It would make a fantastic date night for anyone wanting to try something different.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the Roman Empire and a fast-paced drama, then The Coronation of Poppea is for you. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer a light-hearted whimsical comedy, then Cinderella is a great choice. My colleague, Social Media and Brand Manager at Norwich Theatre, Alex Binks said, “Visiting the English Touring Opera with no previous experience in the opera world, I was blown away by the amount of talent and passion that filled the room! What really stood out to me was how both operas were designed to appeal to modern audiences, making it a great experience for everyone, especially if opera has been something to tick off your bucket list.”
Both productions are sung in English with surtitles above the stage, so you can easily follow along. Experiencing an opera is unlike anything else. You will be witnessing people project their voices to thousands of people without microphones, seeing the elaborate costumes and props, and experiencing human emotion in its rawest form. Try something new this autumn!
English Touring Opera is at Norwich Theatre Royal between 16 – 17 Oct 23. For more information or to book, visit norwichtheatre.org or call the box office on 01603 630 000.