From the New York MET to the Hackney Empire – opera for all

A great week for opera.

Last Saturday we went to the cinema to see the Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky) Live from the MET. A superb production set, wonder of wonders, in the period originally intended and with exquisite attention to the real character and feelings of the characters. So Tatiana, sung superbly by Anna Netrebko (one of opera’s most ebullient  personalities) came over as an introverted dreamer, easily embarrassed and desperately sensitive. The rest of the cast matched this too. No expense was spared to give authentic detail to this production and to hiring singers at the pinnacle of their careers. It was the best Onegin we have seen. On top of this, we could watch it in cinemas all around the world for a reasonable sum.

Last night we went to the Hackney Empire (recently and beautifully renovated) for a live production of an even grander opera, Verdi’s Aida. Set, as intended, in the glory days of Ancient Egypt, we were lucky enough to watch the Moldovan Chisinau National Opera & National Philharmonic Orchestra performing this challenging opera – for one night only. By tonight the cast, musicians, sets, costumes and equipment will have travelled to Buxton Opera House and performed with most of the same cast all over again. Their schedule is terrifying; they are touring from Eastbourne to Aberdeen, from Windsor to Belfast, mostly for one night only.

Their budget must be a tithe of the MET’s. Every part of the production has to be portable, and along the way they manage to involve the local communities as extras and dancers. So four enchanting small boys danced for us in the princess’s boudoir, valiant locals marched across the stage (several times) to supply the impression of returning armies and the Ethiopian prisoners were very youthful indeed.

This company, directed by Ellen Kent, will bring live opera right into local communities, small English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish towns often with only one small theatre. They gave us an evening of delight and for many a very first taste of opera.