Taking up the baton as English Touring Opera return to Norwich
- Credit: Archant
Celebrated conductor Timothy Burke will be taking charge of Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience as ETO return to Norwich Theatre Royal, a visit that also includes Tosca and two new operas for children.
Patience, the first show to be performed at Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy Theatre in 1881 is a comedy which satirises the pretentious nature of poets and the follies of love.
'It is a great first Gilbert and Sullivan for me. I think it is possibly Sullivan's most beautiful and lyrical score, but it still packs a comic punch,' says Timothy Burke, who will be conducting when Patience is staged by English Touring Opera on their latest visit to Norwich Theatre Royal.
Having conducted just about every opera from the classical canon, from The Marriage of Figaro to The Barber of Seville, Burke does not shy away from the comedic classics.
'I think comedy can quite often be the hardest thing to write successfully,' he says, 'and you can really feel in these scores that Sullivan is writing extremely successfully for a discerning crowd. It was a huge money-making business, but that was largely down to the quality of the writing.'
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Gilbert and Sullivan's golden years began with Patience, marking a move away from sillier plots and towards operas with genuinely wittier and more interesting music from Arthur Sullivan and clever libretto from W. S. Gilbert.
It is a piece that is more of a well planned farce and not what is now known as the 'magic lozenge' plot which is basically a piece of nonsense that ties up the plot at the end.
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The plot is timeless. A baker's dozen of lovesick maidens fall for the aesthetic poet, Reginald Bunthorne, whose style and manner was very much in vogue in the 1880s heyday. He is modelled on the likes of Oscar Wilde and Algernon Charles Swinburne who were aesthetic poets who rejected the need for art to convey any particular message, but just to exist for the sake of beauty. It is the cue for plenty of over the top flowery language, swooning, fainting and swooping from Gilbert and Sullivan.
English Touring Opera's version, which is being staged at Norwich Theatre Royal on June 3, stays faithful to Gilbert and Sullivan's vision with period frilly frocks but could equally tell the story of Beatlemania in the 1960s or even the recent adoration of One Direction.
Alas, Bunthorne only has eyes for Patience who has never loved and hardly knows what love is. All is plain and simple until Archibald Grosvenor rolls back into town and sweeps the lovesick maidens and Patience off their feet.
Although love is a central theme in the operetta, 'the opera is really about the fickle nature of popularity,' says Burke. 'By the end, when Bunthorne has attempted his character assassination of Grosvenor, we see that the lovesick maidens are just as prepared to follow a new trend.'
The production has been directed by Liam Steel, an award winner with a long standing relationship with English Touring Opera.
'Working with Liam on the delivery of Gilbert's libretto and choreographing all of the dances within the piece has been a real inspiration and a delight,' says Burke, who career has seen him wield the baton for Le nozze di Figaro for Welsh National Opera, as well as Will Tuckett's The Wind in the Willows for the Royal Opera House.
The production boasts a beautiful set with giant leaves and plush greens inspired by 1800s textile designer and aesthete William Morris, brought to life on the stage by Florence de Maré.
Olivier Award winning company, English Touring Opera, have been bringing new productions to Norwich Theatre Royal for seven years.
This latest visit also sees them staging Tosca, Puccini's classic tale of love, power and revenge (June 1 and 2), which brings to life 19th century Rome and the story of Floria Tosca, the wife to a painter who is called upon to hide an escaped political prisoner from the tyrannical chief of police, Scarpia.
The production marks the coming together of the award-winning Blanche McIntyre, making his opera debut, and conductor Michael Rosewell, ETO's music director.
ETO has a longstanding commitment to making opera available to more people in more places across the country and to people coming to it for the first time.
Timothy Burke said: 'Patience is the ideal starting point and the ideal entry opera, young or old. It's witty, it's light, the diction is clear and the music is terrific.'
Singers Bradley Travis and Luci Briginshaw take up the roles of poet and milkmaid. The conductor adds: 'It is so nice to work with a group of talented singers, many of whom are my age or younger. As a young conductor you get used to conducting people who are much more experienced than you are yourself – this is how we learn, of course – but it's lovely to feel part of a generation of new talent as well, and English Touring Opera is certainly on the pulse with finding exciting young artists.'
• English Touring Opera, Norwich Theatre Royal, June 1-3, 7.30pm, £37.50-£8, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
As well as Patience and Tosca, English Touring Opera will also be performing two new children's operas during their visit to Norwich, both being staged in the new Theatre Royal Stage Too building.
Silver Electra (June 1, 11am), tells the story of American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, the first woman to cross the Atlantic. Composer Russell Hepplewhite and librettist Tim Yealland imagine that Amelia survived her around the world flight and crash landed her Silver Electra aeroplane in Australia. Meanwhile Different (June 2, 11am) is a new opera for children with special needs and their families which has been devised with Turtle Club, a group of young adults with high functioning autism or Asperger's, and ETO's head of education Tim Yealland and composer Llywelyn ap Myrddin. Fun, colourful and participatory, it centres on Romek and Tomek, Polish twins camping with their dog Peaches in the woods.