Ipswich: Carmen out to seduce Regent audiences

Bizets sensuous and tragic tale Carmen comes to the Ipswich Regent on February 23.

Bizets sensuous and tragic tale Carmen comes to the Ipswich Regent on February 23. - Credit: Archant

Award-winning opera director and producer Ellen Kent brings the heat of Spain to Ipswich tomorrow with her new production of Carmen.

With two tours of Madama Butterfly and La Traviata under another promoter, she’s resumed the reins after a four-year break and chosen Bizet’s blistering tale of drama and passion to mark the return of Opera and Ballet International - complete with an Andalucian stallion, rescue donkeys and choir boys.

It’s a trip down memory lane for Ellen, who grew up in Andalucia, in Spain.

“I’m starting from scratch with Carmen; there’ll be brand new sets influenced by the wonderful paintings of Goya and reflecting the architecture of Seville with its balconies, orange trees, fountains and flowers,” she promises.

“It’s hot, dusty, Moorish architecture with that amazing coloured stone. The costumes will also reflect Goya’s paintings of the Spanish people of that era and, of course, it’s all set against the backdrop of the bullring. I can picture it now. It’ll look magnificent.”

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This sensuous opera tells the story of soldier Don Jose who is seduced by the fiery, beautiful and passionate gypsy Carmen. Leaving behind his childhood sweetheart and his military career, he pursues Carmen but loses her to the glamorous bullfighter Escamillo.

In true tragic operatic fashion, Jose can’t bear to be without Carmen and stabs her in a jealous rage.

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The celebrated National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus of Chisinau will provide the music, alongside international soloist mezzo soprano Nadia Stoianova as Carmen. The opera is sung in French with English surtitles.

“This is a powerful epic opera with heartbreaking stories of love and loss which many people will identify with. The costumes are fabulous and the sets will transport you to Europe. I just can’t wait for rehearsals to begin,” adds Ellen.

When we last spoke, the production still had one part to fill, that of the village donkey who appears in the market scene in act one and carries the smugglers’ goods through the mountains in act three.

With animal welfare close to her heart, Ellen decided to use rescue donkeys from sanctuaries close to each venue. The company has been flooded with four-legged artistes offering their services at shows up and down the UK but it seemed in Ipswich they were worried about making an ass of themselves on stage.

But a local animal has now been found. Stepping into the limelight will be Charlie, an 18-year-old, 11-hands, grey/brown donkey owned by Sue Field, who comes from the Colchester area.

“What could be more Spanish than incorporating a donkey into the performance,” says Ellen, whose mother ran the Spanish equivalent of the RSPCA, travelling to remote mountain villages to rescue donkeys destined for ritual sacrifice.

The show comes to Ipswich’s Regent Theatre on February 23.

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