As her latest tour comes to Sunderland, impresario Ellen Kent fears for opera's future
PUBLISHED: 10:43 23 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:06 20 February 2013
Show promoter Ellen Kent airs her fears for opera's future as her latest tour rolls into Sunderland
The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of North East Life
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For almost 20 years Ellen Kents opera and ballet shows have wowed packed theatres the length and breadth of the country. She has brought performers to UK stages from all over Europe and has introduced a whole new audience to opera. But the former Durham University student is deeply worried for its future.
In another 30 years it will be very interesting to see where opera is and who is watching it, she said. I wasnt an opera purist when I came to it. Now I love opera, but is it a dying art form?
Certain people have made opera snooty. For some reason some people think opera has to be very intellectual but when you look at the storylines, theyre soap opera stuff.
Ticket prices can be ridiculous too people have made opera so snobbish, so it is seen as something that should only be enjoyed by a certain few. Its opera for the wealthy, educated elite and musical theatre for the masses.
I believe opera should follow every model that works look at Strictly Come Dancing, who would have thought ten years ago that ballroom dancing would be on prime time television?
Ellen, who will turn 63 next month, made her name with lavish shows featuring naked dancers, live animals, stunning effects and other gimmicks not often associated with opera. There were reports a couple of years ago that she was turning away from touring to concentrate on one-off arena events but now shes back, taking La Traviata and Madama Butterfly on a UK tour which comes to Sunderland on March 2nd and 3rd.
She added: These shows are very traditional, very classical, with beautiful costumes and a rich tapestry of beautiful people and emotional stories. What I want from an audience is a pure, primitive response. I want them to leave the theatre having had a thoroughly emotional experience.
I have always used lots of extras, operas tend to demand a lot of people so I have good relationships with stage schools and I like to get local societies involved, they can be really good. Ive had children on stage, animals on stage, you name it. I even had the high sheriff of Tyne and Wear on stage in Die Fledermaus once.
Dates in the North East are always a highlight of a tour for Ellen, who studied classics at St Marys College. She went from Durham, where she has fond memories of rowing on the Wear, to Bristols Old Vic Theatre. After stage and TV work, she set up a production company with her then husband a journalist she met when he was reviewing a show she was in: it must have been a bloody good review.
The couple moved into bringing European touring theatre to this country with an outdoor performance at Rochester Castle featuring the Romanian National Opera company. No-one else was doing that at the time, she said. I didnt know anything about opera at the time but I realised during that performance that was what I had been looking for, all the over-the-top drama and emotion.