Pupils explore an exciting new musical aria with ETO

La Boheme by English Touring Opera
La Boheme by English Touring Opera
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A troupe of Blackpool schoolchildren are becoming a new generation of opera lovers – spreading a ‘positive’ message about the art form.

Children from St Nicholas’ 
CE Primary School are joining the English Touring Opera’s cast of La Bohème when it comes to Blackpool.

General director James Conway hopes they will become part of a national band of ambassadors for opera, able to share their experience of rehearsing, performing and watching the work.

“We have been getting beautiful letters from children taking part in La Bohème, saying that they want to be opera singers now,” he said.

“For these children and their parents, opera is going to be a positive word.”

And children at Boundary and Anchorsholme primaries and Highfurlong School will also see ETO’s work for themselves, with operas specially devised for children.

Shackleton’s Cat has been created for children aged seven to 11, based on the true story of the tabby cat that accompanied Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-16 Antarctic expedition, while Waxwings is an interactive opera for children with severe special educational needs based on the story of flight and the myth of Icarus.

James added: “It should be an art form that makes people feel something. It’s not remote or excessively difficult to follow. I have been in touring opera for perhaps 30 years, and it has been my passion to make extraordinary things happen in ordinary places.”

ETO’s dates in Blackpool next Monday and Tuesday are the company’s first visit to the resort in a decade, and they’re hoped to be the start of a new working relationship.

“Blackpool is particularly important to us with this tour,” he explained. “We haven’t been to Blackpool since 2005.

“It’s such a beautiful theatre, it’s special. We are really really hoping people will turn out. 2005 was the last in a long association and it just didn’t sell the numbers. There’s a new team in place there now and it seems to be a positive new association with us.

“We have dates booked in for next year, but it’s still a case of numbers.”

But the company is not in any rush and recognises the need to build their presence in Blackpool.

“You have to invest a few years to get interest going,” James said. “La Bohème is a really popular opera and it should look good at the Grand, and it has a great cast.

“And The Siege Of Calais is a work I’m hugely proud of. It’s an incredibly accessible revival production and people have written saying they didn’t realise opera could be so dramatic.

“It has had enormous impact so far on tour, we are playing our two strongest cards for Blackpool.

“La Bohème is first, so maybe people will come and think it’s that cheap at the prices, they’ll come for a second production to Siege.”

With ‘student stampede’ tickets on the day for just £7.50, and under 26s advance tickets for £10, the ETO aims to encourage new audiences with these low costs.

“It’s hard to see how a company of 70 is on the road, but that’s what Art Council grants help you do,” James said. “We are one of the main ways which subsidies for opera move out of London.”

* English Touring Opera, La Bohème, Monday, May 11, and The Siege Of Calais, Tuesday, May 12. Call (01253) 290190 for tickets.