Siege of Calais, Wild man of the West Indies, Boheme - review: ETO is back on tour with three superb productions

With opera of this calibre touring to every corner of the country, who needs London?

This week visiting Truro and Poole, next week Norwich and Sheffield, English Touring Opera are back on tour, in top form and with three superb productions, two of which are rarities.

As directed by James Conway on Samal Blak’s windswept set, Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais comes over as a bleakly magnificent parable of patriotism, in which Catherine Carby takes the trouser-role of the civic leader’s son and Paula Sides that of her wife.

Igbal Khan directs the same composer’s The Wild Man of the West Indies on a starkly evocative set by Florence de Mare, with fine performances by Nicholas Sharratt, Njabulo Madlala, and Peter Braithwaite. But the singer who gives both these productions visceral power is baritone Craig Smith, who turns the role of the Lear-like Cardenio (the Wild Man) into a riveting study in patriarchal arrogance and encroaching madness. 

And it’s a long time since I saw as felicitous a production of La Boheme as that which Conway directs here on de Mare’s charming sets. David Butt Philip’s Rodolfo and Ilona Domnich’s Mimi meld their voices beautifully, and among the other roles – all strongly cast – Madlala’s Schaunard and Matthew Stiff’s Colline are outstanding. With opera of this calibre touring to every corner of the country, who needs London?

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