Glyndebourne's damsel in distress

Having 19 shows in eight venues means the soprano Marie Arnet must take care not to repeat herself
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The Independent Culture

The creamy-voiced soprano Marie Arnet sings Ilia, the damsel in distress, in Mozart's epic drama Idomeneo, which, along with Verdi's La Traviata and Handel's Theodora, is going on the road with Glyndebourne Touring Opera.

Rather than Greeks and Trojans at war, as Mozart intended, Peter Sellars's new production is set in the context of the war in Iraq. "It is easier to relate to it," says Arnet. The first scene, with a set designed by the sculptor, Anish Kapoor, turns the stage into a living sculpture, "a big red tunnel, or the female genitalia," says Arnet.

The scene begins with Ilia standing bereft beside the three body bags that contain her dead family. "She has lost everything," says Arnet. "The conflict for her is that she then falls in love with Idamente, who is responsible for her devastation but who also rescues her."

Idamente is played by a woman, Julianne de Villiers. When he sings the very moving aria "I'm Not Afraid of Death", as he prepares to die for his father, "it has a parallel to a suicide bomber," says Arnet.

Arnet, who sang Diane in the Gluck tragedy Iphigénie en Aulide at Glyndebourne festival last year, Sophie in Opera North's Der Rosenkavalier, and has just finished playing Pamina in Scottish Opera's The Magic Flute, says Ilia is a great part. "But as a kid, opera was the last thing I wanted to do. It was cool to be on the Eurovision Song Contest, not to be a fat opera singer wobbling on stage," says Arnet. "When people first meet me they always say I don't look like an opera singer.

"But these days, directors want incredibly fit opera singers who can move around freely. You can't get away with just sitting down like Pavarotti any more. It is a very physical job. If you look gorgeous and sing gorgeously, all the better."

With 19 performances ahead of her, Arnet must take care of her voice. "I certainly wouldn't go out partying through the night in a smokey bar," she says, "and I drink lots of water."

This tour will also see Peter Sellars revive his acclaimed 1996 production of Handel's dramatic oratario, Theodora (it played at the festival this summer to rave reviews). Emmanuelle Haim, who made her debut with the touring company in 2000, will conduct.

In her Glyndebourne debut, Anne-Lise Sollied will sing Theodora, with Christine Rice (who sung Carmen with the touring company last year) taking Irene.

Christopher Cowell will also direct La Traviata, conducted by Richard Farnes, and with designs by John Gunter. Violetta will be sung by Majella Cullagh, following her success as Adèle in Le Comte Ory for the company in 1997, with the Lithuanian tenor, Edgaras Montvidas, as Alfredo.

Glyndebourne Touring Opera visits Woking, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Stoke-on-Trent, Plymouth, Oxford and Edinburgh (0127 381 3813) 7 October - 13 December;