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The show must go on - Elin Pritchard talks to Michael Volpe on the effect of lockdown, how ‘Opera Ensemble’ was formed and returning to the Iford Arts stage with the viscerally thrilling ‘Pagliacci’.

The show must go on - Elin Pritchard talks to Michael Volpe on the effect of lockdown, how ‘Opera Ensemble’ was formed and returning to the Iford Arts stage with the viscerally thrilling ‘Pagliacci’.

Even as one of the UK’s rising star sopranos, Welsh native Elin Pritchard found the abrupt halt of all work in March 2020 something of a traumatic experience. “I seriously began to think that I would never work again, that perhaps I’d sung my last role on stage,” she says. Elin had just completed 7 performances of her role debut at Welsh National Opera (Micaela in Carmen) when disaster struck. She still has her celebratory tweet from her first performance pinned to her Twitter profile.

‘It was as if we didn’t exist any longer - and it wasn’t only me. It took me a long time to decide that I wanted to do something about it and rather than just wait by the phone, I would try to make things work – I have a mortgage to pay and food to put on the table after all!’

So Elin contacted several of her singer friends and colleagues and decided to propose a production of an opera that couldn’t be more illustrative of the principle that the ‘show must go on’, namely Leoncavallo’s smash hit story of angst ridden clowns, Pagliacci. “I knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time to put it together and we didn’t want to invest lots of money into it because who knew what might happen,” she remembers, with some anxiety.

Having brought on board prestigious director Christopher Luscombe and a group of terrific singers, Opera Ensemble was born and in a London church, their production of Pagliacci took off, with the Sunday Times calling it ‘viscerally thrilling’. What Elin and the company had achieved was to strip back one of the great operatic hot-dogs to its shocking, powerful bones – and it worked beautifully. “When you strip back operas,” she says, “people have this impression of things being lessened, when actually what it tends to do is bring so much more out of the piece and focus the audience onto the emotional core of the opera. Christopher’s brilliant direction adds so much, too. Remounting the production with the orchestra and chorus will be a thrill for all of us.”

Working with us here at Iford Arts has allowed them to expand the production, adding an orchestra and introducing the visceral potency of this most Italian of operas to the glorious surroundings of Belcombe. Elin will be coming off the back of a run as Manon Lescaut at ‘The Grange’ but the excitement to get to Wiltshire is palpable. “We can’t wait to bring it to Belcombe and to see it sit alongside its famous stablemate, Cavalleria Rusticana. What a wonderful way to reinvent the production!”

Alongside Elin will be a tremendous cast of singers, well known to opera fans around the country. Tenor Peter Auty as her tortured husband, bass baritone Robert Hayward, baritone Nicholas Lester and tenor Aled Hall complete this all-star ensemble. The cast is tight and collegiate and all have a personal, emotional stake in the genesis of production which means audiences will be able to feel the energy coming from the stage. Pagliacci represents a shifting landscape in opera and it is for the better; singers now take a different approach to the old ways of doing things, allowing their talent and energy to dictate things ahead of florid, over-embellished productions that take months to put together. The constituent parts of Leoncavallo’s gorgeous and shocking masterpiece are its music and the psychological, violent centrepiece of the ‘show within a show’ scene. Of course, we all know the clown’s lament ‘Vesti la giubba’ made famous by singers over the decades and of course several famous movies, but it cannot be forgotten that the final scenes of Pagliacci are suffused with unbearable tension.

Iford Arts audiences are in for a real treat – superb singing and heart breaking drama, set within the stunning grounds of Belcombe Court. Throw in a picnic and a glass or two of bubbly and the scene is set for an evening to remember.

Pagliacci will be performed as the second half of the duo MezzoCav and Pagliacci at Belcome Court on 28/29/30 August.

For tickets book online HERE

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