English Touring Opera 2009

English Touring Opera, this year celebrating its 30th birthday, will launch its Spring tour at Hackney Empire on 12 March. The two new productions are The Magic Flute and Katya Kabanova, Janacek’s devastating masterpiece based on Ostrovsky’s The Storm. From there, they will tour to many of their regular venues regionally through to the end of May.

The first performance of Katya Kabanova follows hard on that of ENO’s revival of David Alden’s Olivier Award-winning Jenufa at the Coliseum. It’s a great opportunity to see these two magnificent works back to back; not a bundle of laughs perhaps – the one about a suicidal wife living under the oppressive eye of the mother-in-law from hell, the other involving domestic violence and baby-murder – but both are among Janacek’s most thought-provoking and deeply beautiful works.

Spring 2009 will also see concert performances of Bellini’s Norma, playing at Cadogan Hall, off Sloane Square on 27 April. One of the great operas of the bel canto tradition, it is surprisingly under-performed. Yvonne Howard plays the title role of the druid priestess betrayed by her Roman lover.

For three decades, ETO have been producing quality opera, notching up over 100 productions since they began in 1979 under the banner of Opera 80. Since then, they have kick-started the careers of some of our most illustrious singers, including the world-class mezzo Sarah Connolly.

A unique “Handelfest” is at the centre of the company’s autumn programme, starting in London during October. With productions of Teseo, Flavio, Tolomeo, Alcina and Ariodante, the season will launch at the Britten Theatre (at the Royal College of Music) and the whole package will subsequently appear in Malvern, Exeter, Bath, Snape and Cambridge. At each stop on the festival tour, the company will host lectures, discussions, recitals and masterclasses, in addition to the main programme.

It looks like a good year for both Handel lovers and English Touring Opera.

– Simon Thomas