Madama on a mission

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MILLIONS have seen her shows, making her the biggest supplier of opera and ballet in the UK and Ireland.

So what’s the key to Ellen Kent’s success in a market that doesn’t always appeal to the everyone?

Wearside audiences are about to find out as she brings two new lavish productions of Madama Butterfly and La Traviata to Sunderland.

However, it wasn’t an easy path to tread getting them here.

With the Ukrainian National Opera of Kharkiv featuring in the shows, Ellen faced a tough battle and a journey to Kharkiv in the Ukraine to bring the shows to Britain.

Having produced her own shows for more than 27 years, in 2009 Ellen decided to step down from her work as a producer with Eastern European opera and ballet companies to further develop her role as an artistic director, focusing on large scale productions.

Following her “Farewell Tour”, Ellen returned to touring last year when she joined forces with Derek Block Concert Promotions, one of the biggest international promoters in the entertainment industry.

She said: “Directing is never a challenge. The challenge is setting up the infrastructure to make sure it arrives in Britain.

“In Kharkiv, they had a very Soviet attitude. It was a totally new experience for me.

“It was an enormous challenge because every time I wanted to do something, someone said no.

“Everyday was like a new challenge, but I’m like a tank, I kept going and going, leaving people in my path.

“They have a very old-fashioned way of doing things over there so I think our productions were like a breath of fresh air to them.

“It was a meeting of two cultures, but the chorus and the soloists took to my direction like a duck to water.

“The challenge was cutting through the Soviet red tape and bringing the opera to Britain and presenting it in a state that’s fitting for the British public.”

The result is a set of shows, coming to the Empire on March 2 and 3, Ellen is more than proud to put her name to.

Ellen, who in 2005 won the European Woman of Achievement for the Arts Award for her promotion of Eastern European talent, said: “I’m 62 and only have a limited amount of energy and breath left, but these kinds of shows hardly ever come about.

“There were all these press stories about me stepping down. Then I had a phone call to ask if I would take over as director with a view to bringing the shows back to the UK.

“I thought about it for three months and then thought I’d give it a whirl.”

She added: “These two shows are extremely handsome, prettily dressed with some damn-good soloists.

“In Madama Butterfly, I discovered the lead and she looks like this young, ingenue film star.

“When I opened Butterfly last September I said to her ‘I can’t push you any further, you’ve arrived’.

“La Traviata is a different kettle of fish altogether. Again it’s dressed very handsomely and we have four new sets, it’s a very good show.

“Last night at the show we had people wolf-whistling, clapping and standing on their seats.”

Ellen’s hoping the Sunderland reaction will be just as enthusiastic.

“There are pockets of areas in Britain where unemployment is high,” explains Ellen. “It’s not a hard sell in Sunderland, but you have to spin it out.

“We’re not a sellout there like it is in other places, but we do respectably well because I have a following there.

“I have been playing in Sunderland since 1994 and over the years people have learnt what I do which is beautiful, traditional productions.”