Renowned soprano Janis Kelly is taking her knowledge and love of opera on tour around Europe. For those who perfer to remain closer to home, she tells us of five upcoming operas that will delight everyone, from novice to expert:
Opera has been my passion and profession for over thirty years and I want to reassure people that they don’t need to know everything about this glorious art form in order to enjoy a beautiful performance. I want to make opera accessible to everyone, regardless of their knowledge or the depths of their pockets. There is no need to feel intimidated, but sometimes it is difficult to know where to begin.
A fantastic way to appreciate the magic that is opera is by trying it yourself. Next year, throughout Europe, I will be hosting singing masterclass and travel tours with a fantastic new company for the culturally curious, Sapienza Travel, which gives people unprecedented access to unique locations and experiences. Across three different tours around Europe, I will guide guests through aspects of posture and articulation, along with exercises for warming up and stamina. On top of all of that we will be granted the best seats in the house at some of Europe’s leading operas, from performances at La Fenice in Venice, through to Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava.
But for those who want to stay in the UK, here are five upcoming operas to get started with, from budget to blowout. Each is full of life and will delight everyone from an opera novice to a seasoned expert.
A Blow-Out Extravaganza
Akhnaten by Philip Glass
Akhnaten is an opera is based on the young Pharaoh Akhnaten, his wife Nefertiti and their religious revolution. Akhnaten is a Phelim McDermott production, beautifully crafted both visually and dramatically. It’s a feast of ritual and symbolism; the hypnotic world of Philip Glass’ music is both elevating and moving. I was in the original production in 1985, which caused a storm back then! In this completely new and different take on the piece it has repeated its impact. It is a joint production with the MET but comes back to the English National Opera next season.
Performances at the English National Opera.
The Best In Upcoming Opera Talent
Soraya Mafi, who plays Cleopatra in George Frederic Handel’s Giulio Cesare
In this opera, Cesare has followed his enemy Pompeo to Egypt, where Pompeo’s wife, Cornelia, begs Cesare to spare her husband’s life. But before he can agree, Tolomeo, the Egyptian king, brings Cesare Pompeo’s head. Cornelia and son Sesto set out to take vengeance on Pompeo’s death. In the meantime, Cleopatra wants to get rid of her brother Tolomeo in order to become the ruler of Egypt. Cornelia, Cleopatra and Sesto band together with Cesare to take down Tolomeo.
Giulio Cesare explores the themes of love, loyalty and death. Rupert Christiansen at The Telegraph commented particularly on Soraya’s performance of Cleopatra, presently performing for the English Touring Opera:
“Without a doubt, however, the show’s star is Soraya Mafi, whose beguiling Cleopatra melts hearts in “Giusto ciel” and “Piangero la sorte mia” before dazzling us with “Da tempeste il legion infranto”. Her voice is diamantine in projection, perfectly in tune, easy with the coloratura and happy to frolic high above the stage. When Mafi is singing, we get lift off.”
Performing for the English Touring Opera.
A Quality Budget Production
The Cunning Little Vixen by Leoš Janáček
The Cunning Little Vixen is a piece for the whole family with the stars of English opera’s future. The Royal College of Music Orchestra is directed by Daniel Slater and conducted by Michael Roswell. Vixen Sharp Ears, other wild life and humans alike play out their adventures of the cycle of life in this opera, which has beautiful melodies and reflections on the sounds of nature within the rich musical writing by Czech composer Janacek. The Cunning Little Vixen opens on 27 November 2017 for four performances.
Performances at the Benjamin Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music in London.
An English Opera
The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten and Myfanwy Piper
The libretto of The Turn of the Screw could be played as a theatre play – Britten’s musical creation around this perfectly written text really transports you into the world of these characters perfectly. It originated in the novella of the same title by Henry James, which itself inspired additional novels, an opera and several films, including The Innocents. The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story where you see the drama between the living and dead characters, examine how it affects the new Governess who has just arrived to look after the small children Flora and Miles. Gripping, moving and disturbing.
Performances next at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre, summer 2018.
My Personal Favourite
La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, set to Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Based on La Dame aux Camellias, a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, La Traviata translates as ‘fallen woman’. Verdi originally wanted the first performance, in Le Fenice, 1853 to be in modern dress, but censors required it to be of the period – 17th Century.
La Traviata is the most performed opera worldwide. Set in Paris, Violetta Valery, a famous courtesan, is having a party to celebrate her recovery from an illness. She is introduced to a young Alfredo Vermont, whom had long been an admirer of hers, having visited her everyday for a whole year. A love story with a tragic ending, with some of the most sublime music ever written, the piece requires great acting skills and the soprano role is incredibly multidimensional – both high and fast moving lines, dramatic qualities and limpid ailing tones. Yes, Violetta has a death scene – the death scene that should make you gasp and move you to tears.
Performances at The Royal Opera House in London.