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Opera returns to Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House for the first time in years

Newcastle's oldest theatre and opera house is to present an opera production for the first time in many years

A scene from Rigoletto, Russian State Opera and Ballet Theatre of Komi
A scene from Rigoletto, Russian State Opera and Ballet Theatre of Komi

Opera is back at the historic Tyne Theatre and Opera House this month and we could be seeing more of it in future.

A single performance of Rigoletto, from the Russian State Ballet and Opera House, will be a rare chance to see the 148-year-old theatre’s special acoustic put to the test.

The Russian company, with a large cast and chorus and accompanied by a 30-strong orchestra, offers a full-blooded production of Verdi’s operatic masterpiece.

Premiered in Venice in 1851, Rigoletto tells of the Duke of Mantua, who has more than just an eye for the ladies, his court jester Rigoletto and the jester’s daugher, Gilda.

Based on a play by Victor Hugo, the plot hinges on a curse placed on the Duke and his jester by a nobleman whose daughter the Duke has seduced with Rigoletto’s assistance.

Not unusually in opera, it’s rather an unpleasant story which ends in tears.

The music, though, has been making audiences go weak at the knees since about the time the Tyne Theatre & Opera House was a twinkle in the eye of politician and industrialist Joseph Cowen (1829 to 1900) who engaged William B Parnell to design and build it.

After the Venice premiere, it is said, people were heard singing one of the Duke’s arias the next morning as they went about their business.

The company of the Russian State Ballet and Opera House has visited the Newcastle theatre before with Carmen and La Traviata.

This will be its first visit under the new in-house management company which was set up by the Tyne Theatre & Opera House Preservation Trust, owner of the Grade I-listed building, when SMG Europe signalled it would not be looking to extend its contract.

Heather Ging, who is on the board of the Trust and used to be head of light entertainment and arts at Tyne Tees TV, says: “Most North East people will still not realise that they have a purpose-built opera house in their midst but this is the idea that Joseph Cowen had for the people of Newcastle in 1867.

A scene from Rigoletto, Russian State Opera and Ballet Theatre of Komi
A scene from Rigoletto, Russian State Opera and Ballet Theatre of Komi

Buy tickets here: Rigoletto Newcastle Upon Tyne Tickets - Eventim

“Now that the new company, Tyne Theatre and Opera House Ltd, has control of the programming, we hope to move more in that direction.”

Heather says there is a big opera audience in Newcastle. In 1983 Placido Domingo, one of the famous ‘three tenors’ (along with Pavarotti and Carreras) performed there in a production of Tosca.

Heather, who was in the audience, recalls: “It was sensational – and he noticed the acoustic. As soon as he walked on stage, he said, ‘This is where I’m going to stand’. The acoustics are astounding.”

Heather says: “We want to encourage more singing because it is an opera house. I would like to see an opera festival, specialising in short operas. The nearest one is in Derby and it does attraction attention from all over the country.”

After two failed Heritage Lottery Fund bids, the Trust is keen to increase the amount of education and community work associated with the theatre in advance of a third bid for crucial funding.

While more opera may be the ambition, the current programme is varied. Count Arthur Strong (a stage spin-off from the BBC Radio 4 series) is on on Saturday and the West End Operatic Society’s Hairspray takes the stage from April 13-18. Also coming up are Basil Brush, Stewart Francis, Steve Backshall and more.

To book tickets for Rigoletto tel. 0844 2491000 or go to www.tynetheatreandoperahouse.uk

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