Curve gets its first taste of live opera
JAMES Conway believes that opera should be for everyone – not just for the richest people in the biggest cities.
Which is why he's delighted to bring live opera to Curve for the first time.
James is general director at English Touring Opera, who will bring Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte and Verdi's Simon Boccanegra to the city.
English Touring Opera's visit is an important first for Curve but ETO's relationship with the city goes back a long way, as the company was regularly seen at the Haymarket more than 10 years ago.
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James says: "I have been trying, and have wanted, to get back into Leicester for the last decade. So it's the realisation of a long held desire."
James believes Curve is well suited to the role, certainly compared with many other venues ETO visits on each UK tour.
"Technically, it's very well equipped. It's the small theatres with narrow proscenium arches and not much height that cause us problems. The remarkable thing about opera is that the scale doesn't change – we have 75 people on the road and we would be regarded as smaller opera company.
"But it takes at least that many to do a show when you have an orchestra and a chorus. It's a big touring operation.
"The interesting thing in Leicester for us is to find, or re-find, the opera audience. We want to bring regular opera provision back to Leicester and to start a relationship that's going to have legs."
To ignite the passion for live opera at Curve, ETO has chosen two works from the greats – Mozart and Verdi.
"Verdi's Simon Boccanegra isn't often done but it's a fantastic piece," says James.
"I think it ranks with his greatest operas. Some people say the plot is complicated, and there is more than 20 years that passes between the first and second scenes, but it's still relatively straightforward. It's about reconciling different political groups, so it still has enormous resonance.
"It has family conflict at the centre of it but it also very much about political morality and it's a big opera. That's chiefly due to one scene that Verdi added to the second version of the opera, which is what we are doing. I think we are handling that in an innovative way."
James will direct Simon Boccanegra and for him it's a long-cherished project.
He says: "I'm able to do it this year because we could get together a group of extraordinary British singers who are just perfect for it. At present, the key personalities needed to make this opera work are all available so I think this could be a very special moment for us."
If this slice of Verdi is not so well known, then the Mozart on offer is.
James says: "Cosi Fan Tutte is an opera done with some frequency and we will do a period production with a very stylish set. It's an innovative, poetic setting.
"Again, you have to chose the right time, when you can get four young singers to play the lovers. They need to be young but also able to sing these very difficult parts."
James has now directed 21 new productions and four revivals for ETO but admits that these are challenging times even for a successful and established company.
"The next opera company up from us would get eight times as much subsidy," he says. "I'm proud of the quality of the work and what we do on the money we get. Every pound we receive works incredibly hard and we have the lowest subsidy of any company producing in the UK.
"Our performers aren't as well paid as I'd like considering they have had to train the same number of years as a brain surgeon. So it is tough but it is also a privilege to do it. I was born in North America, where there's opera in a few metropolitan centres for rich people. The thing I love about England is that public service is valued. That's what brought me here in the first place.
"There are good audiences out there for opera. And not just for the top 10 titles. There is a curious and interested audience and the engagement with them is very rewarding."