Tragedy and satire from ETO at Bath

ENGLISH Touring Opera makes a welcome return to Bath’s Theatre Royal on Monday 30th and Tuesday 31st May with productions of arguably the world’s favourite opera, Puccini’s achingly sad and beautiful La Bohème and the colourful satire, The Golden Cockerel by Rimsky-Korsakov.

The two operas both date from the period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it would be hard to imagine two more different music theatre works.

The Golden Cockerel (1908), the first opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov to be produced by ETO, is based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin, and combines fantasy, mischief and musical delight.

A daring satire on the last days of the Romanov empire, the score is bursting with the exotic orchestrations that made Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite Scheherezade so popular.

A send-up of corruption and sloth in government, the fairy-tale opera holds up a mirror to the last days of the Romanovs, and in particular the debacle of the Russo-Japanese War making The Golden Cockerel as explosive as it is charming. Director James Conway said, “Despite its political edge, which meant it fell foul of the Tsarist censors, the music is daringly sensual and erotic at points. For many it’s an undiscovered joy of an opera.”

ETO’s new music director Gerry Cornelius conducts the production, which stars baritone Grant Doyle (most recently with ETO in the 2019 production of Verdi’s Macbeth) as the indolent Emperor Dodon with soprano Paula Sides as the seductive Queen of Shemakha, and Alys Mererid Roberts in the title role.

On Tuesday 31st May, ETO will perform the company’s much praised 2015 production of La Bohème (the opera composed by Puccini in the mid 1890s).

Sung in Italian, in period dress with poetic designs, it is a story of doomed love, opening on a snowy Christmas Eve in a Parisian garret, where the poet Rodolfo meets the seamstress Mimi and the two fall instantly in love.

From the poignant and romantic “Che gelida manina” to the shattering brass chords announcing Mimì’s death, it is an irresistible story of passion, friendship, jealousy and mortality that captures the drama and poverty of late 19th Century Paris.

Mimi is sung by soprano Francesca Chiejina, who was named by The Guardian as one of the “exciting new artists across the musical spectrum who are set for success in 2022”.