Producer and director Ellen Kent tells Laura Cartledge why we should sing the praises of opera.
Opera is approximately 400 years old.
As a result redefining the art form, and people’s idea of it, is no ordinary task – so it comes as no surprise that award-winning Ellen Kent is no ordinary woman.
I catch up with her while she is in Moldova, as she smokes a cigar and sips cognac, enjoying a short break from directing three operas.
“I went to bed at 2am,” reveals the 64 year old with a smile. “This is how I survive.”
It is clear she is fuelled by her passion, which saw her get into opera in 1992, but her experience stretches back decades before this.
“I’ve been on all sides of the fence,” says Ellen. “I started off as an actress then set up a company with my ex-husband – I’ve been training for a very long time. Now I do it all, directing, staging, you name it.”
Ellen’s productions have even seen her sell out the Royal Albert Hall.
However the desire to be bigger and better means she has not stopped there.
“At last count my shows had reached 3.2 million people, now that will be getting to 4 million,” she says. “I always have to make it more exciting but I only put in gimmicks when it suits.
“Opera attracts the senses, it is a sensual production, people will laugh, people will cry, and people will get goose bumps when they see the breathtaking sets,” Ellen adds, “and my sets are breathtaking darling. I give them the works, what they want to see.”
Ellen is not afraid of turning up the heat – quite literally. Her new tour boasts a wall of fire, ballet and exotic birds.
It is opera, but not necessarily how people know it. So is Ellen keen to broaden the audience demographic?
“I realise I have to throw out the net as far as I can,” she replies. “Opera has its following with the likes of Glyndebourne and Covent Garden. But if you go into the regions I would be interested to know the age group – I bet it is the older generation.
“People may think I am shouting into the dark about this, like in a Greek tragedy, but it is a real shame.
“And we have really beautiful girls in the group which is a real draw,” she laughs. “The case of it not being over until the fat lady sings is not in my opera. In fact I would say the only fat lady is me and I am not on the stage.”
Two of the productions Ellen is working on will be taking to stages in Sussex and Hampshire between September and November.
Aida, a story of war, jealousy and revenge, set amid the splendour and mystery of ancient Egypt; and Nabucco, which includes the iconic ensemble numbers – the Chorus of the Hebrew slaves.
“They are only the two biggest operas in the world,” says Ellen. “Aida is billed as a spectacular and that attracts people. Going to get the biggest and greatest show without having to go all the way to Egypt.
“Operas are made up of all art forms. It is larger, it is fabulous music and wonderfully dramatic – after all that is where the phrase ‘soap opera’ comes from.”
Ellen’s time on stage means she knows the demands it comes with, and expects them to be met.
“My singers can go into the Albert Hall and not be miked up. That is a talent in itself,” she agrees. “But then they also have to act their butts off, they really have to be a skilled performer.
“I can do operas in my sleep now, you have to learn to bend with the flow,” adds Ellen. “The whole thing is a huge adventure. It is very challenging but the result is massively rewarding.
“I am in the deep end a lot of the time,” she admits. “You have to be a bit mad, a bit of an eccentric to do this. I think it is fair to say I am one of life’s one-offs. I am 64 now and this is what I am meant to do, I know I haven’t lived my life uselessly.”
Nabucco will be showing at Brighton’s Theatre Royal on November 25.
Aida will be showing at Portsmouth’s King’s Theatre on November 26.
Visit www.ellenkent.com for more information.
Portsmouth King’s Theatre 023 9282 8282 www.kings-southsea.com
Brighton Theatre Royal 0844 860 6650 www.atgtickets.com
October 15, 2013 Culture and Events