English Touring Opera's French season features Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach. Although all are based on popular literary works the fame of each opera has eclipsed its original
Many 19th century operas are based on works of literature with compelling stories. These three all originate from novels or plays that were acclaimed in their time and have been selected because the heart of the stories can be freshly revealed in intimate settings.
Debussy’s only complete opera, Pelleas et Melisande is based on the Maeterlinck play of the same name. Set in a remote and mysterious castle by the sea, it is the story of the doomed love between Pelleas and his step-brother’s wife. Both Maeterlinck and Debussy belonged to the symbolist movement, seeking to express states of mind rather than objective reality and it is a tense drama in which what is unsaid is as important as what is said. The company will be using an acclaimed arrangement by Belgian composer Annelies Van Parys for which this is the UK premiere.
Based on Goethe’s partly autobiographical novel of unrequited love, Werther is a domestic story of an apparently idyllic middle class family, torn apart by uncontrollable romantic passion. Massenet’s opera, which opens and closes with poignant scenes of a family Christmas, is dominated by very young protagonists, the melancholy artist Werther (sung in this production by a baritone in a version prepared by the composer), and Charlotte, the wife of his friend Albert. The original novel took Europe by storm and caused 'Werther Fever', a deluge of poems, stories, sequels, prequels and plays. ETO has commissioned a new orchestral arrangement from Iain Farrington, a salon ensemble that will be on stage in the scenes with the singers throughout the opera.
Offenbach is best known for his comic operettas, but his last work, Tales of Hoffman is different; more bizarre and serious. ETO aim to reveal its underlying strangeness in a new English version by Jeff Clarke. It is set in the era of silent movies, just as the talkies are coming to the fore. Late at night, while waiting for his latest mistress, Hoffmann the filmmaker reviews his former loves, always shadowed by a dark adversary. These versions of an ideal woman range from a mechanical doll to a Venetian courtesan – but what will revive his flagging inspiration?
The English Touring Opera autumn season opens on October 1 at the Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music with Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande and continues with Massenet’s Werther (Oct 2) and Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman (October 9) before undertaking a tour which continues until mid November.