English Touring Opera begin new era with Robin Norton-Hale at the helm

English Touring Opera’s General Director, Robin Norton-Hale, launches the ETO’s new era with an ambitious season that places innovation and excellence at the heart of the company’s work.

Norton-Hale, who assumed leadership of ETO in January this year, has introduced several key changes that will expand ETO’s work. These initiatives aim to further strengthen the company’s mission of touring outstanding live productions and impactful education and community projects to more towns and cities than any other UK opera company, and to make exceptional artistic experiences available to everyone.

Robin Norton-Hale, General Director of English Touring Opera, said: “The changing landscape of opera in England means that ETO’s work is more vital than ever. We want to bring the thrilling experience of opera to the widest possible audience, showing that this centuries-old but ever-evolving artform can speak to – and sing about – the world we live in now.”

Notable innovations for the forthcoming seasons include ETO Unboxed, a new programme of extra events that celebrate the multi-disciplinary nature of the artform, ambitious repertoire told from fresh perspectives, specially commissioned English translations of librettos and the commissioning of new and complementary operatic works specifically for digital audiences. Additionally, there will be an expansion and integration of ETO’s Learning and Participation work, with themed seasons linking its operas and other work in schools, communities and theatres alike.

Cast of ETO Lucrezia Borgia 2023 (c) Richard Hubert Smith

ETO’s ethos has always been to produce high-quality opera for underserved audiences across the country, and under the company’s new vision the repertoire they perform will be more ambitious than ever. Autumn 2023 – the first tour to be programmed by Norton-Hale – focuses on love, power and how the two interact, with new productions of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea and Rossini’s Cinderella. Spring 2024 brings Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, exploring the temptations of the big city and so-called immorality.

The autumn 2023 tour features an all-female creative team – Norton-Hale will direct The Coronation of Poppea, with Yshani Perinpanayagam conducting her new arrangement of Monteverdi’s score, and a punchy, poetic new English translation by Helen Eastman bringinga modern twist to one of opera’s earliest masterpieces. Cinderella will be helmed by director and movement specialist Jenny Ogilvie and conducted by Naomi Woo. Both productions will be designed by Basia Bińkowska, winner of the 2017 Linbury Prize for stage design and creator of a beautiful set for The Little Prince at La Scala, Milan last year.

Norton-Hale said, “I am delighted to be working with such an exceptional group of women for my first season. These operas, like so many others, are driven by powerful and complex female characters – but written by male librettists and composers. These creative teams will bring new perspectives to Cinderella and Poppea for audiences familiar with these stories, and a new way into these masterpieces for people new to them. ETO has a vital place in the opera ecology and should take a leading role in ensuring that all voices can be heard.”

Lucrezia Borgia (c) Richard Hubert Smith

All forthcoming productions will be performed in English, enhancing the immediacy of the drama for English-speaking audiences and performers, and enabling ETO to commission translations which reveal new angles on these exceptional music-dramas. Following Helen Eastman’s translation of Poppea in autumn, Jude Christian (writer and performer of Nanjing, director of Violet, Music Theatre Wales and Titus Andronicus, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) will direct her own new translation of Manon Lescaut in spring 2024.

Tours will also be based around a central theme, bringing a greater cohesiveness to the programming and providing a point of focus for an expanded programme of fringe events around the mainstage theatre performances.

ETO Unboxed

In addition to the larger-scale productions, ETO will offer a new programme of live and digital events under the title “ETO Unboxed”. These will explore the multi-disciplinary and multi-genre nature of opera, covering music, theatre, design, language, movement, and more, enriching audiences’ engagement with opera, increasing ETO’s presence in local communities and providing additional entry points into the world of opera. For the Autumn 2023 tour, ETO have commissioned a new work for electronics and soprano from experimental duo drøne, which will be performed in London in September, and new poetry and spoken word from local performers in Norwich, Exeter and Buxton to be performed at events during the tour. Full details will be confirmed closer to the tour.

Cast of ETO Giulio Cesare 2023 (c) Richard Hubert Smith

Digital opera commissions

Building on its success as both a commissioner of new operatic works and the digital projects it created during the Covid lockdowns, ETO will commission two new digital operatic works responding to the themes of the Autumn 2023 and Spring 2024 seasons through an open call for submissions. These films will be hosted for free on ETO’s website, expanding the reach of opera beyond traditional stages. The digital commissions will show the breadth of operatic music, incorporating diverse musical styles, and providing an opportunity for talented composers from all over the country to work in the artform, possibly for the first time, and for ETO and our artists to tackle work in fresh and unfamiliar genres.

The first film, to coincide with the theme of the Autumn 2023 tour, will be a 2-minute animation – further emphasising the multi-disciplinary nature of opera – with parts for up to 2 singers and 4 instrumentalists. The second will be a site-specific, 8-minute live action film based around the Spring 2024 tour, to be written for up to 4 singers and 10 instrumentalists.

Expanding Learning and Participation Programme

ETO’s Learning and Participation programme is a central pillar of the company’s mission, and under the new vision will become more integral and wide-reaching than ever. The programme, which already reaches more than 10,000 people each year through productions in theatres, schools, museums, and libraries, will expand further and link more strongly with the works and music of the main tours.

ETO’s commitment to opera for children will be strengthened with productions such as The Great Stink by Omar Shahryar and Hannah Khalil, the second instalment of ETO’s specially-commissioned climate change opera trilogy aimed at 7-11 year olds, and Under the Little Red Moon by Russell Hepplewhite and Tim Yealland, an interactive opera for babies. Developed in consultation with the General Paediatrics Department at King’s College Hospital, the work addresses many elements crucial to a young infant’s development such as motor skills, language, peer and parent bonding and more, all enabled by the power of live music and will tour to London, York and 12 ‘Levelling Up for Culture’ areas in the West Midlands.

Additionally, ETO will introduce new programmes and workshops to engage with people around the country, such as ETO Lyrics, which will work with young people in alternative educational provision to enable them to build confidence and creatively express their emotions through writing and performing their own songs and lyrics. ETO Perform, a series of performance workshops for 14-18 year-olds, will explore various roles within opera, including technical positions, by working with schools to create new operas based on Rossini’s Cinderella. The company will also extend its workshops to the wider community through ETO Sing, where adults and choral societies can learn singing techniques and gain insights into ETO’s main opera productions.

Further information about the company and future productions can be found on the English Touring Opera website.

ABOVE: English Touring Opera’s 2023 production of Il viaggio a Reims © Richard Hubert Smith