Glyndebourne Opera on tour

TONY COOPER Glyndebourne Opera arrives in Norwich for its annual visit to the Theatre Royal opening with an enchanting new production of The Magic Flute direct from this year’s summer festival. Tony Cooper reports.

TONY COOPER

The link between Glyndebourne and Norwich goes back a long way. In fact, right back to the Sixties, when Norwich was chosen to be one of only four venues in the country to host the newly-formed Glyndebourne Touring Opera – founded by George Christie – on its inaugural tour in 1968.

Their visit to Norwich is eagerly awaited by opera buffs from across the whole of the East Anglian region and this year their tour takes in seven theatres as well as a three-week season at Glyndebourne itself.

Now referred to as Glyndebourne on Tour, the company is travelling with three well-known operas in their repertoire: The Magic Flute, La Bohème and Pelléas et Mélisande.

The artistic policy of GOT, however, remains the same. And that is to take productions mounted by the international summer festival at Glyndebourne to a much wider audience and to give performing opportunities to young singers.

They fulfill this role admirably.

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And a new singer in their midst and one definitely to look out for is the Swedish mezzo Tove Dahlberg, who has just spent two years on the Vilar young artists programme at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

She's making her Glyndebourne debut and takes on the demanding role of Mélisande in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. The opera, set in a medieval dream world and based on a symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlinck, provides a perfect framework for Debussy's enigmatic opera.

The haunting fairytale tells the tragic story of half-brothers, Golaud and Pelleas, who fall in love with the same woman, Mélisande.

It's a stunning production by Graham Vick and was originally seen in Norwich five years ago. Daniel Farncombe, who has revived it for the tour, sets the opera at the turn of the 20th century.

The stage set is stunning, too. It's an amazing construction by Paul Brown showing a floor of chrysanthemums covering the whole stage area beneath a raised glass stage. It immediately evokes the illusory world of this great opera.

The American baritone, Kevin Greenlaw, who sings Pelléas, is also making his British operatic debut and so, too, is the conductor, Pascale Rophe. He's collaborated on projects with the legendary Pierre Boulez and regularly conducts Ensemble Intercontemporain as well as many of Europe's leading contemporary music ensembles.

The cast is completed by seasoned singers Andrew Slater as Golaud, Geoffrey Moses as Arkel and Anne-Marie Owens as Genevieve.

David McVicar's acclaimed production of La Bohème – seen in Norwich in 2000 – is revived by Leah Hausman and conducted by Edward Gardner, who is the new music director of GOT.

He's no stranger to East Anglia as he studied at King's College, Cambridge, before going on to the Royal Academy of Music, London, where he graduated in 2000.

He actually made his debut with the company two years ago conducting Eugene Onegin, another outstanding production that was seen in Norwich.

He is also assistant conductor of the Hallé Orchestra. His roles have included Hansel and Gretel at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, The Rake's Progress and La Traviata for English Touring Opera (soon coming to Snape Maltings) as well as assisting on major productions at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Paris Opera and the Salzburg Festival.

Puccini was a genius for emotional manipulation and in La Bohème – one of Gardner's favourite operas – he explores the joy, anguish and heartbreak of young love through Rodolfo, sung by Peter Auty, who received critical acclaim as Don Jose with GOT in 2002.

Michelle Canniccioni, another newcomer to the company, sings the love of his life, Mimi. She made her Glyndebourne Festival debut this year as Micaela in David McVicar's outstanding production of Carmen.

Majella Cullagh (Violetta in La Traviata on last year's tour) sings Musetta and Jeremy Carpenter – a rising young English bass – sings Marcello, Rodolfo's bosom friend.

Adrian Noble's new production of The Magic Flute is revived for the tour by Frances Drysdale and conducted by Alexander Briger. He, too, has worked with Pierre Boulez (at the Aix-en-Provence Festival) and also has had the distinction of working on major projects with Sir Charles Mackerras. Future plans include his debut with English National Opera at the London Coliseum.

Peter Wedd (Tamino), Valerie Condoluci (Pamina), Toby Stafford-Allen (Papageno) and the Syrian-born singer Lubana al Quntar (Queen of the Night) are all making their Glyndebourne debuts.

The trio of operas coming our way is all good repertoire stuff but anyone wanting new work has to wait until next year.

As with Harrison Birtwistle's The Last Supper, premiered on tour in 2000 and seen at the summer festival the following year, the new work promised next year, Tangier Tattoo, will also follow the same route to the East Sussex Downs. It will be seen on tour first before opening at the festival in 2006.

The opera is by John Linn and is part of a trio of exciting new works undertaken by Glyndebourne's education department as a special project for young singers, designers and composers. The others are Misper (misplaced person) and Zoe. The first two, however, have already been seen at Glyndebourne (outside of the festival) but Tattoo Tangier is the first one of the trio to be toured.

And someone who is looking forward to it very much is Greg Chapman, chairman of the East Anglian Friends of Glyndebourne on Tour and a trustee of Norwich Theatre Royal. “Whether the company is playing the traditional repertoire or contemporary work,” he said, “their productions are always exciting to see and incredibly well produced. Over the years, I'm pleased to say, they seem to have built up a strong audience base for those who want to see new work, therefore, Tangier Tattoo coming our way next year looks very promising indeed.”

t Performance schedule: The Magic Flute, Tuesday November 9 and Friday November 12; La Bohème, Wednesday November 10 and Saturday November 13; Pelléas et Mélisande, Thursday November 11. All performances start at 7.15pm. Tickets £5 to £42.50. Box office: 01603 630000. Theatre information: www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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