Having been privileged to attend Madama Butterfly during the last season of the Ellen Kent tours, I arrived with great anticipation to watch the 1st of her two latest offerings – Tosca, an opera by Puccini based on a play by Victorien Sardou.
Tosca is a tragedy, telling the tale of a naïve couple drawn into political and corrupt dramas, through the willingness of one friend to help another, with deadly consequences.
Portrayed against the beautiful backdrop of Rome, the set was magnificent, fully justifying the £50,000 cost, and drew the opera-goer into the life & atmosphere of the city.
Floria Tosca, (played by Maria Tonina), conveyed the jealous, yet fiercely loyal lover with total believability. Her voice, especially in the heart rending beautiful aria ‘Vissi d’arte’ was excellent.
As always the costumes were breathtaking, and the subtle changes in colour reflected the changes in dramatic tone between the acts, such as Tosca first appearing in a gorgeous classical, pink dress signifying the light-hearted love between her and Cavaradossi (played with competence – if a little stiffly – by Vitalii Liskovetskyi); changing to a fiery red costume in the second act, reflecting the extremes that she was driven to through desperation to save her lover by the evil, manipulative Baron Scarpia (played with huge gusto, skill and enjoyment by Vladimir Dragos).
The use of lighting was extremely effective, including the use of real candles, which was a brave, yet logical decision to take to convey the period atmosphere.
The music under the direction of Vasyl Vasylenko, complemented the production perfectly, never intruding, yet subtly supporting the performances, and conveying the dramatic crescendos of the characters’ lives.
A local youth drama company – Stagecoach, which Ellen has used (to great effect) since the mid nineties, provided an unexpected surprise, and they were a credit to their teachers. The ensemble choir was also excellent
The director Ellen Kent is totally dedicated to bringing her vision to the stage, she invests so much more than money into every production & this shows in every aspect of each show through the attention to period detail and a refusal to skimp on sets, costumes and props.
She is also a true ‘patron’ of the arts as can be seen in her bringing over the conductor Vasyl Vasylenko from Donetsk to work with her, when his theatre – home to the Ukraine National Ballet & Opera – was bombed, leaving him without a professional ‘home’ She offers performers the chance to be seen on an international stage & to hone their skills in a very supportive ‘family environment.
It is evident that it is her passion for bringing opera & ballet to a much wider audience than the usually accepted musical cognoscenti is what drives her, rather than the commercial side of things. Also the enjoyment of the tales told and her great appetite for life (which has been a very exciting a unusual one) invests her work with an element of the unexpected – always something to be anticipated.
All in all, an excellent night’s entertainment, which I would recommend to all.
The next opportunity to catch an Ellen Kent production in Manchester will be in March 2016 when Die Fledermaus & Carmen will be staged; I urge you to buy your tickets soon for what will surely be sold out performances.
Sheila Blair for www.BoltonLive.org