Behind the velvet drapes of an Ellen Kent opera

3:35pm Friday 10th February 2012

By Melanie Dakin

Bad opera was the underlying influence that pushed producer Ellen Kent to stage her lavish performances. As a child growing up in Spain, Ellen says she was privy to all sorts of questionable entertainment.

“My mother was a great opera fan,“ says Ellen. “We’d go to the opera house in Malaga and watch all these bad touring Italian companies and even I thought they were a bit ropey and thrown together. There would be this fat tenor in a wig sweating profusely in the height of summer. We’d see up to four operas a week in the season but my treat was the meal we’d enjoy afterwards. Still, it did develop my taste in music, even if the productions were pretty grim.“

Having been trained by a singer from the Royal Opera, Ellen chose acting and found fame producing children’s theatre. She staged her first opera in 1993 quite by accident when asked to provide an international entertainment for a UK festival. This she did in spectacular fashion – bringing the Romanian National Opera to perform Nabucco at Rochester Castle where an audience of 7,000 gave it a ten-minute standing ovation. Her star turn – producing lavish, remarkable stage operas – was born.

Ellen says: “When the curtains open I want people to say ’Wow!’ I want to do opera that people actually want to see.“

Exquisite water gardens, horses, and koi carp are just some of the extravagant touches Ellen has made to her shows.

La Traviata, which comes to Watford Colosseum this month, promises ball gowns, glittering chandeliers and an enormous, fully laden dining table sporting a fountain that spurts real water.

“I just indulge myself,“ says Ellen. “I think if I’d enjoy it, the audience will. My only benchmark is my own.“

Ellen has treated herself and her audiences to an ambitious staging of Madama Butterfly, Carmen and La Boheme.

La Traviata is one of her favourites, so what makes it so special?

“It’s a dramatic story, based on the book of La Dame aux Camelias by Alexander Dumais about the life of a famous French courtesan. I’m a great Verdi fan.“

The show, featuring the internationally acclaimed Ukrainian National Opera of Kharkiv, is a tragic tale recalling the life and loves of the passionate but consumptive Violetta. Highlights include the Brindisi, the duet Un Di Felice and the haunting aria Addio Del Passato. International sopranos Maria Tsonina and Elena Dee will be singing the role of Violetta, while Andriy Perfilov takes the role of Alfredo. They are joined by a 70-strong company including Ruslan Zinevych, who has sung with Pavarotti. As with her attention to detail, Ellen is very particular about selecting her cast.

“My soloists are all international singers, they’re young and very good looking and if they can act even better but if not we take them from a very young age and train them up.“

I ask Ellen if she has an ideal stage and how would she dress it?

“I’d do Aida on the banks of the Nile with camels, 2,000 extras and fireworks. To me live opera is akin to film and has to be cinematic in its scope.“ She’ll be 63 in April but Ellen says she feels more like 23 and there’s no sign of her determination failing.

“I’ve always had this madness in me that makes me think I will do it come hell or high water when I set my teeth into it.“

Watford Colosseum on Sunday, February 19 at 7.30pm. Details: 0845 075 3993, www.watfordcolosseum.co.uk

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