ETO wins Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera

14th April 2014

English Touring Opera has won the 2014 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera.

Revealed at yesterday’s ceremony at the Royal Opera House, the award was given for ETO’s ‘brave and challenging’ productions of Michael Tippett’s King Priam and Benjamin Britten’s Paul Bunyan, which are halfway through a nationwide tour.

This is the first time ETO has ever won an Olivier Award. The other nominees in ETO’s category were Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez for their performances in La Donna Del Lago at the Royal Opera House, and Placido Domingo for his performance in Nabucco, again at Covent Garden.

King Priam and Paul Bunyan opened at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House in February 2014, and are currently touring alongside a revival of The Magic Flute and two operas for children, as part of ETO’s Spring 2014 season.

King Priam is ETO’s first ever production of an opera by Michael Tippett. Its staging was a personal ambition of director James Conway since he began work as ETO’s General Director in 2002.

The opera is based on sources including Homer’s Iliad and depicts the fall of Troy from the perspective of its ageing king, focusing on the difficulties and consequences of moral choices at a time of warfare.

Conway, with season designer Anna Fleischle and lighting designer Guy Hoare, staged the opera in an ancient yet timeless setting, with extensive use of natural materials such as antlers, leather and bone, chosen to reflect the sparse beauty of Tippett’s score.

The Guardian’s review praised a ‘performance of ravaged majesty from Roderick Earle in the title role’, and the opera overall as ‘Unnerving, seductive stuff, and utterly compelling’.

King Priam is still to tour to The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury (Wed 23 April), Norwich Theatre Royal (Sat 26 April), Exeter Northcott Theatre (Sat 17 May), Gala Theatre, Durham (Tue 20 May) and Cambridge Arts Theatre (Tue 27 May)

Paul Bunyan marks ETO’s final contribution to the Britten 100 centenary celebrations, and is one of the composer’s least-performed operas.

Liam Steel’s production –also produced with Anna Fleischle and Guy Hoare – sees the action unfold in the naturalistic setting of an early twentieth-century lumber camp.

It draws on its director’s extensive choreographic experience to present a show that features strong elements of musical theatre as well as opera. The off-stage title role was pre-recorded for ETO’s current tour by award-winning actor Damian Lewis.

In its five-star review of Paul Bunyan, The Independent wrote that ‘this inventive marriage of sight and sound is flawless from start to finish’.

Remaining performances of Paul Bunyan are at York Theatre Royal (Wed 16 April), Norwich Theatre Royal (Fri 25 April), The Hawth in Crawley (Tue 6 May), Warwick Arts Centre (Thu 8 May), Exeter Northcott Theatre (Fri 16 May) and Cambridge Arts Theatre (Wed 28 May).

ETO’s General Director James Conway said: “It’s a great honour for English Touring Opera’s work to be recognised by SOLT nominators and judges, especially in such august company. Our wonderful regional audiences recognise our work now, and that is hugely gratifying; to be noticed in London’s exciting theatre world is almost more than one could have hoped for.”

He added: “The longstanding, generous support of the Arts Council makes the work possible; in this particular, highly risky programme, we also had support from the Britten-Pears Foundation, and from a wonderful syndicate of ‘Angels’ who believe in Michael Tippett’s great, and greatly human work. ETO is certainly strong in one thing: highly trained, gifted, generous performers and technicians, who work hard every day they are with us for very modest rewards. They are on the road now, performing in five shows for audiences of all ages. This recognition is all for them.”

Established in 1976 and organised by Society of London Theatre (SOLT), the Laurence Olivier Awards celebrate the world-class status of London’s theatre and are recognised internationally as British theatre’s highest honour.

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