Approved by ATG's PR & Communications Officer, David Bradbury
We spoke to Ellen Kent about her career as an opera producer and director, and about her upcoming productions at Richmond Theatre.
You have been producing and directing touring opera for almost twenty years – why do you think your productions are so popular with audiences around the country?
Providing a top quality production is very important to me. I want everything to be as good as it can be. I choose my soloists very carefully, the sets and costumes are all very lavish and evocative and there is always something extra to surprise the audience. For Carmen we had an amazing stallion for the March of the Toreadors on stage and a rescue donkey, for Aida we have some spectacular pyrotechnics and fire spinners. I believe in giving my audiences that little bit more.
You have been described in the press as ‘flamboyant’ and ‘a maverick’. What do you think makes you stand out from other producers?
I have been an artist and performer myself and now that I personally direct all my shows I think what I give is a very personal experience. I am a business-woman but I am also a story-teller and I think the artist side of me has been recognised. If people want to call it "flamboyant", great – I produce opera after all, not soap!
Why is Nabucco a special opera for you?
It was the first opera I ever produced. I was asked to provide the City of Rochester with a centre-piece for their Arts Festival to be performed in the grounds of Rochester Castle. Of course it absolutely rained cats and dogs but the audience sat through the wind and the rain and gave a standing ovation at the end. It was the start of everything and I realised if I could do that I could do anything.
Do you think audiences are the same everywhere? Do you adapt your productions for the different places that you visit?
I think the Ellen Kent audience expects certain things from one of my shows and are very discerning. A lot of opera companies have moved into modernising the great classic operas, but I provide something very true to the way they were originally performed – again it is what my audiences respond to. I do like to inject a bit of local interest and in La Boheme we are using local brass bands in the Act 2 market scene, as well as local dance and theatre schools providing dancers for Aida. I suppose it goes back to bringing the audience that something extra.
If you could direct any opera in any part of the world – what would it be and where?
I would love to direct another open air production. I produced Carmen a few years ago in a huge Circus tent in the grounds of Leeds Castle and I think I would like to do something unusual and spectacular like that again. Maybe I should take Aida and perform it in front of the pyramids – now that would be a production to remember!
Which of the three operas you’re presenting at Richmond Theatre (Nabucco, La Boheme, Aida) would you recommend for an opera novice? Why?
I would suggest go and see all three because you will get a fantastic taste of 3 quite different types of opera. Aida is the block-buster title, the epic, Cecil B Demille production with huge sets and special effects and the story that effects a nation. Nabucco is for the specialist market but is still very spectacular and has one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of music ever written – Va Pensiero. La Boheme is a much smaller story in a way and you see characters who have little effect on the rest of the world but who live large in their own way – perhaps it is the gentlest of the three for a modern audience.
Who is your favourite composer?
I love Puccini. His own life was very dramatic- like an opera – and I think you can feel his own passions in the music. Also he wrote Madame Butterfly which is one of my favourite operas and which I will be touring next Autumn in fact
You’re famous for your special effects on stage. What has been your favourite? Do you have any surprises in store for us this November?
Well, as ever my productions are huge and will all be a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. We have pyrotechnics and lighting effects in Aida and Nabucco and even a real dog in La Boheme. I know my audience expect something extra from me and I never want to let them down.