First lady of opera Ellen Kent returns to Cork

WE CAN relax at last and know that spring is really here because Ellen Kent Opera arrives in Cork today with two spectacular performances at Cork Opera House — Die Fledermaus tonight, and Carmen tomorrow.

First lady of opera Ellen Kent returns to Cork

Neither Kent nor the productions need any introduction to aficionados, but when it’s the doyenne’s hand on the directorial baton, you can always expect something special.

So which is it to be? Frankly, you shouldn’t miss the chance to see both. The wonderful lilting operetta by Johann Strauss II, set in the hedonistic Vienna of the 1890s, boasts some of the most well-known arias and music in the popular canon: ‘The Laughing Song’, ‘Brother Mine and Sister Mine’, the Champagne chorus, and of course those unforgettable waltzes. But it’s the characters that make Die Fledermaus

one of the greats. A husband given to serial infidelity, a wife with a guilty secret from the past, a flighty maid aiming far above her station, a Machiavellian friend bent on revenge, a wealthy but bored Russian prince — a mad mix that gives opportunity for so many intrigues.

The Kent production, based on the famous Herbert von Karajan interpretation, boasts not only opulent costumes and sets, and the full Chisinau National Philharmonic Orchestra with international soloists, but also two champagne fountains, two bats, an introduction of some scenes from the Russian Die Fledermaus , and — of course — a mystery guest at the ball. It’s a well-loved tradition of this operetta to reveal that unexpected celebrity guest and nobody knows who it will be until all is suddenly revealed.

And then the mood changes from light-hearted misbehaviour to dangerous lust and passion the following night with Bizet’s Carmen.

Again, you probably already love the music, but wait for the explosive treatment it receives at Kent’s hands.

The first lady of opera has created many exciting versions over the decades, from sell-out performances in the grounds of Leeds Castle (which caused major traffic jams) to a legendary visit to the Middle East in 2004 at the personal invitation of the Emir of Qatar for the first ever performance of Carmen

to be performed in the Gulf. “We flew out 155 performers, 12 gypsy dancers, a full orchestra, the lot.”

The ballroom of the Sheraton in Doha was converted into a vast theatre; sound technicians were imported from Germany, lights from America. Wooden dressing rooms with full length mirrors, gilt furniture, and air conditioning. A cargo plane for the costumes and sets, and a private passenger jet for the company.

Kent’s eyes take on a faraway look. “What you can do when money is no object...”

However, barely a day before the performance, the emir casually mentioned that there should of course be no sexual innuendo, no touching, no bare flesh. This for Carmen

? Kent re-rehearsed all night. “I went back to my childhood experiences of opera in Bombay, where the singers get close but never touch.”

It worked. The production received a standing ovation, was broadcast live throughout the Arab states and, as the ultimate sign of respect, Kent was upgraded to the status of “a man” and even allowed into the one bar of the Sheraton that allowed drinking. But don’t worry, the sexual chemistry and sultry innuendo is back in there for the Cork show.

  • Ellen Kent Opera, Cork Opera House. Die Fledermaus tonight; Carmen tomorrow.

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