Russian State Opera bring Carmen to Tunbridge Wells

Russian State Opera bring Carmen to Tunbridge Wells

Next Wednesday Bizet’s timeless opera Carmen comes to town. Ahead of the premiere performance of this new production Eileen Leahy talks to Alexej Ignatow from the Russian State Opera

Tell us a little bit about your history as a touring production company?

We have been touring for more than 11 years and organised more than 25 ballet and opera tours, which equates to more than 1,000 individual performances! This year we will be staging more than 140 performances across the UK and there will definitely be some highlights to remember. We have a group of theatres where we perform both opera and ballet that we now consider loyal friends. To us it is always special to come back to towns like Tunbridge Wells with our productions and excite the audience.

Can you give readers a synopsis of the story of Carmen?

It tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naive soldier who is seduced by Carmen, a seductive, free-spirited femme fatale. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts his military duties but not everything works out as planned. Having based their work on Prosper Merimee’s original novella, librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy certainly fashioned a timeless story of love, jealousy, and violence in the Spanish city of Seville during the 19th century.

How long has the Russian State Opera been touring this production?

This is a brand-new production for us and the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells will be the first venue we perform it in. In the last five years since we started touring opera in the UK we have done Carmen on two previous occasions. But we always try to ensure our opera and ballet productions are kept alive and updated frequently. The idea is that if an audience member came to see our Carmen production in 2014 for example, then the next time we bring it over they see it presented with a completely new set and staging. It is a very costly undertaking for us but we believe it is essential for keeping the interest in opera going.

What do you enjoy most about being on tour with a show?

Not sure where to start with that answer! It’s partly the 200 plus performers we bring to the UK whom we show close to 100 different towns while they are touring. Then of course there’s the daily challenge we face as each theatre is so different so we have to adopt quickly and transform our staging. And of course, the smile and appreciation of the audience makes it very memorable when you feel the energy that comes from the public towards the stage.

Are you audiences proactive about their theatrical experience?

They are very loyal and we get lots of emails of praise and thanks every year, which proves that we are doing something right! We also have followers that are there for each of our performances, which is a great inspiration. Every year we get more and more opera first timers and we often hear comments like ‘why did I not come to the theatre earlier?’ It is very motivating to see young and old audience members coming along.

What do you think people will enjoy most about seeing Carmen?

Carmen is one of the most popular operas in the world. The tragic clash of Carmen and José is an eternal story of the struggle between a man and a woman. There are a lot of great pieces of music in the opera, and most people will know or remember the music straight away. The story line is extraordinarily dramatic but yet simple to follow, allowing any newcomers to really enjoy the opera.

Why do you think Carmen has stood the test of time?

As Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky once said: ‘This opera by Georges Bizet is a masterpiece, one of the few things which are destined to reflect itself in the highest degree of musical aspirations. In ten years Carmen will be the most popular opera in the world.’ And after its first performance in 1875, Carmen is indeed one of the best loved operas! Its storyline is and always will be applicable to any time or generation. Then there are the great tunes that keep coming back to you even after you have left the theatre. All this combined becomes timeless

What do you think is appealing about seeing live opera?

It’s the drama and the music, and the art of the performers which allows an audience to engage with the plot. The live orchestra’s music also contributes to the full enjoyment. When performing operas and ballets, it is always exciting to imagine the time when the music was composed and how it’s still so relevant and enjoyable today. I don’t think people will ever get tired of listening to classical music.

What are you looking forward to most about coming to Tunbridge Wells?

We always love to come to here and we adore visiting the theatre. The artists always try to come a bit earlier so they can spend time walking around and exploring its history. Personally, for me it is a highlight as we are now based in Canterbury, and therefore performances in Tunbridge Wells become like home shows for us.

Carmen is on at the Assembly Hall on August 27th at 7.30pm. Tickets cost from £33 for adults and £21 for children. To book visit

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