Lavish operas reflect Kent’s showy outlook

Ellen Kent has resumed her multiple roles as promoter, artistic director and producer of operas.

Her new touring productions are Carmen and Tosca, performed by the Chisinau National Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra, alongside international soloists, mezzo soprano, Nadia Stoianova, soprano, Maria Tsonina, baritone, Vladimir Dragos and tenor, Sorin Lupu.

Kent, an opera singer and former actress, says she is an obsessive “who has to interfere in every department.” Now aged 64, she eased up in 2009. “I closed everything down and teamed up with a promoter, who was bankrolling me. But I realised it was more trouble than it’s worth. Why make money for somebody else? I may as well take the risk myself.” She has released equity from her house and 15-acre estate in Kent to fund the operas and says the tour in the UK has broken even. No expense has been spared in creating her trademark lavish sets. For Carmen, Bizet’s sensuous opera about the downfall of soldier, Don Jose, who is seduced by the fiery Carmen, Kent was inspired by Goya paintings.

“I’m a very visual person, inspired by great painters. I see my operas as very beautiful. I don’t do minimalist. I’ve had costumes made for Carmen that reflect Goya’s paintings of women. There are real fountains on the set, and date palms,” she says.

Kent lived in Andalusia, in Spain, in her teens and has drawn on this experience. “My parents had a farm there. I have great memories of the flavours and smells of Spain.” Kent’s approach is “to try to do opera that people actually want to see, and can identify with, and cry and feel moved by. I aim to make opera understandable and enjoyable. People don’t want to be educated; they want to be entertained and have a great night out.”

Kent has turned Puccini’s Tosca into a Gothic thriller. “The opera is like a Gothic horror story, with its rape, pillage, murder, treachery and jealousy. It has all the melodrama that you want. It’s a fabulous opera. I have great sets; big, marble pillars with candles everywhere and beautiful costumes for the singer, Maria Tsonina. It’s a visual feast.”

Kent visited Puccini’s museum home, near Pisa, in Italy. “His villa is absolutely dripping in stained glass. All his original opera sets are there. It was just like meeting an old friend. I think Puccini would approve of what I’m doing with Tosca. It’s a visual feast,” she says.

Kent has sunk £1.5m into Carmen and Tosca. “I’m going to make a very small profit; nothing like what I should make. But how long does one want to live in this life? I’ve always said I want to die by 72. I’ve had a fantastic life in this business and haven’t regretted any of the risks I’ve taken. Most worked well; some didn’t. But, boy have I had an interesting life.”

*Carmen is at the National Concert Hall on Mar 30; at University Concert Hall in Limerick on Apr 3; and at the venue on Apr 5-6. Tosca is at the venue on Mar 31; and at the Cork Opera House on Apr 4.

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