A French trio from English Touring Opera

image by Richard Hubert Smith

English Touring Opera (ETO) will bring a trio of passionate French operas to Cambridge's West Road Concert Hall this November. These fully-costumed performances include Massenet’s Werther, Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann and Debussy’s Pelléas & Mélisande.

Often considered the greatest of Massenet’s many operas, Werther combines gorgeous melodies, romance and tragedy. In it, the young poet Werther falls hopelessly in love with Charlotte, who is already engaged. At first she rejects him, then, on reading his love letters, she realises she feels the same way – but before she can tell him, tragedy strikes. Werther is sung in English, and performed at West Road Concert Hall on 5 November, 7.30pm. ETO’s new production also features a choir of children from Milton Road Primary School. 

Next, The Tales of Hoffmann treats a set of quirky stories from the works of ETA Hoffmann with a mix of passion and darkly comic humour. The opera’s many catchy tunes include the Barcarolle, famous from the Oscar-winning film Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella). The story starts with the penniless writer waiting in a tavern for his latest mistress to arrive. To pass the time he tells stories of his previous three lovers. It is sung in English and stars Ilona Domnich, who played Mimì in ETO’s La bohème earlier this year, in the role of Stella and the three heroines - one of the most demanding in all of opera. See her on 6 November, 7.30pm.

Pelléas & Mélisande is famous for Debussy’s sensuous and captivating music. Set in a mysterious castle by the sea, it has echoes of Romeo and Juliet in its depiction of doomed romance. King Golaud brings the young maiden Mélisande home to his castle, where his half-brother Pelléas falls in love with her. The King is violently jealous of the couple, and as Pelléas and Mélisande declare their love openly Golaud kills his brother in a violent rage. Pelléas & Mélisande is sung in French with English surtitles, 7 November, 7.30pm.

James Conway, ETO’s general director, says: "We set out to find three of the very best French operas, with compelling dramas that could be especially well told on an intimate scale – and decided on three that are essentially 'French', though they could hardly be more different from each other.

"I think this season has plenty for anyone who likes opera, of course, but also for people who have an interest in different kinds of theatre. Come try these very different masterpieces."

Tickets are £12-£36 (£5 students).