Award-winning opera producer Ellen Kent is returning to Wearside. Katy Wheeler caught up with her and finds out how you can be part of the show.
LOSE yourself in the sumptuous sets and lavish costumes of La Traviata as Verdi’s masterpiece comes to life on the Sunderland stage.
Producer Ellen Kent, who’s been staging shows at Sunderland Empire since 1994, breathes new life into Verdi’s outstanding interpretation of one of the most popular love stories of the 19th century, La Dame aux Camelias by Alexander Dumas.
It’s a tragic tale of searing passion and memorable music and Dumas made no secret of the fact that his book and play were autobiographically based on his own affair with Marie Duplessis, who died in 1847 of tuberculosis at the age of 23.
Ellen was fascinated by the book which she read whilst rehearsing Traviata in the Ukraine in 2011.
Speaking about what Wearside audiences can expect from the show, she said: “It’s very lavish, it’s a typical Ellen Kent production with beautiful sets which were specially commissioned for the piece.
“They were done by Nadia Shvets from the National Ukrainian opera of Kharkiv, who is a fantastic designer
“They are bespoke for La Traviata. It’s a very handsome set and the costumes are all hand-made, they are beautiful, it would cost around £2,000 - £3,000 for one of the big dresses, a lot of work has gone into them.”
One of those to don the impressive dresses will be soprano Maria Tonina as courtesan Violetta.
“I hand-picked the leads, who are very interesting performers,” said Ellen.
“In looking for leading ladies, I look for very good looking, young girls, but not so young that they don’t have experience.
“Maria is a great find, because she is very beautiful and very talented. She’s in the same league as Katherine Jenkins as a singer. It can take you years to find someone like that, because they have to be able to hold the whole stage.”
Playing the role of Alfredo is Spanish tenor Giorgio Meladze, who has acquired critical acclaim in Europe, singing in Milan, Spain and across Europe. He earned further praise when he sang with Jose Carreras at the Austrian opera festival Tiroler Festspiele Erl this summer.
“Tenors are an interesting one, because there’s not that many tenors around,” said Ellen.
“In this production, we have Spanish tenor Giorgio Meladze as Alfredo and he’s fantastic.
“He’s sang with Jose Carreras, tenors on the highest level.”
Ellen says opera can be a risky business when it comes to choosing the right production.
“When choosing which productions to stage you’ve got to take so many things into account, such as the market place, when it last toured. It’s not easy in this market, you have to make a harder sell to get people through the door,” she said.
“Even as recently as 2005, I think more people went to the opera. But it appeals to an older population, people who are retired, who like to sup a sherry of an evening.
“You’re having to compete with back to back musicals. If people can write a musical about anything they will, and stick a reality star in the lead role. People want instant gratification.
“The popular operas like Carmen hold their own, but it makes it harder and harder to stage the less well-known operas. It’s not easy to be an opera producer now, it never was, but it’s harder now.
“It’s always unknown territory, you never know if it will do well. But we have a good audience base in Sunderland who are very loyal.”
•La Traviata is at Sunderland Empire on March 19. Tickets are available in person at the Box Office from £10 or from £12.90 by calling 0844 871 3022 or booking online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.
A Tale of Passion, Love and Death
This operatic version of La Dame Aux Camelias tells the romantic story about the love and life of the courtesan, Violetta.
Based on a true story, it tells of the passionate consumptive Violetta and her doomed love for the aristocratic Alfredo.
There are many echoes of Verdi’s own life in Traviata and he threw himself into the music. This was also Verdi’s venture into operatic realism.
The highlights include the Brindisi, the best known drinking song in opera, the duet Un Di Felice and the haunting aria Addio Del Passato.
The clarity of the plot seems matched by a single moral idea – that enduring love can and does survive despite all efforts to corrupt it.
Alfredo’s dogged determination to stand by his fallen woman, against all odds, brings out a sense of redemption.
Only in death are Violetta’s bourgeois values relinquished, and she is redeemed, ultimately, not as a fallen woman, but a risen one.
This production will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.
We’ve teamed up with Ellen Kent Opera to give away a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appear in La Traviata.
The winner will appear in the Act 1 ballroom scene and will also win a pair of tickets and a souvenir programme to enjoy the rest of the show.
Two runners up will also win a pair of tickets each.
To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: which famous composer penned La Traviata?
Email your answer and contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk. Closing date: March 12.