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Rarely-staged opera opens tonight at Theatre Royal Stratford East

PUBLISHED: 19:00 14 March 2016

A dress rehearsal for La Favorite at Theatre Royal Stratford East

A dress rehearsal for La Favorite at Theatre Royal Stratford East

Archant

A rarely-performed, 19th-century opera by Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti will be shown to theatre-going audiences in Stratford.

Opera La Favorite was a huge success with 19th-century audiencesOpera La Favorite was a huge success with 19th-century audiences

La Favorite will be performed by professional singers and students from University College of London, who in turn will be led by musical director Charles Peebles.

John Ramster, La Favorite’s director, says he wants to prove the medium can be a crowd-pleaser, not just the reserve of privileged audiences.

“I think people get really intimidated by what they think opera is – it is great stories and amazing music. If you have never been to an opera before, this is a great one to come to,” he says.

The award-winning producer, writer and Royal Academy of Music teacher says that the plot is “like EastEnders” and essentially “a great storytelling of a convoluted love triangle”.

Set in 1930s Spain, La Favorite is a four-act opera telling the story of Fernand, a monk who leaves behind his monastry after falling in love and marrying Léonor.

His blissful marital life is thrown into disarray upon discovering Léonor is a former mistress and ‘la favorite’ of King Alphonse of Castille who is now wanted by the king as a marital prize for Fernand’s recent military victories.

Told against the backdrop of Spain’s moorish invasions, Ramster says the opera was hugely popular in its time and was the first to be captured on gramophone record, before falling into near obscurity during the 20th century.

“It has not been done all that much because the parts are so fiendishly difficult to sing,” John explains.

He praises the talented singers for the new production, who include mezzo-soprano Catherine Backhouse as Léonor, and Australian-born tenor David Woodward as Fernand.

He also says it’s a big moment for the largely student cast of UC Opera from University College London, who make up a large chunk of the cast and orchestra.

“It is the first experience of a big stage for a lot of the performers,” says John.

UC Opera celebrates its 65th anniversary this year and regularly stages productions of lesser-known and rarely-performed operas. Although La Favorite has been so rarely performed in the UK – it’s last full production was in 1993 at National Theatre Wales – this will be the UK premiere of the original ending.

The story will be performed in its original French but there will be four screens with subtitles.

John says that Theatre Royal Stratford East has “welcomed us in with open arms” and says he hopes the same will apply to the theatre’s surrounding community.

“I would like to think some of the Stratford locals will come along.”

Shows start at 7.40pm and run every night until Saturday. March 19. Tickets £25. Visit click here for details.


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