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Rabbit heads, choral voices, and operatic cockerels.

Sounds like an odd mix, right? However, this is all part of a normal day in the life of English Touring Opera – and I was lucky enough to be invited to join them in their London studio space to get a sneak peek at rehearsals for a national tour of La Boheme and The Golden Cockerel that visits Lighthouse on 11 and 12 March.

In the first hour I sat in with the director of The Golden Cockerel, who eloquently illustrated the narrative of this opera. Delving into the “political satire that is often pantomimic in nature”, he assured me that this broad comedy is perfect for anyone new to opera with its “very accessible and sweet-on-the-ear music”. However, if it was something more traditional that you were after, La Boheme is perfect.

Whereas The Golden Cockerel has wit, La Boheme has heart – and they were ready to squeeze it as we were invited to join the some of the cast in afternoon rehearsals to glimpse how the show was developing. Beautifully composed music was accompanied by passionately sung Italian text that filled the theatre from stage to the furthest stall. I’ll be honest, my Italian isn’t too sharp - my only Italian influencers as child were the Mario Brothers - but through the physicality and delivery of lines from the performers, I was able to follow the story perfectly.

After a rich display of what to expect from La Boheme, the actors took a well-deserved lunch break and we were invited to our next rehearsal for The Golden Cockerel. As we were gathering our belongings, I noticed a peculiar piece of costume sitting by the director’s seat, an oversized rabbit head. The temptation was too strong to supress the performer in me and with the director’s permission I was generously allowed to try on the piece to get a sense of what the actor experiences. It was hot, stuffy, and hard to see out of…but was totally worth it!

Enough messing around though, we had more to see...

On entering the first studio, I was greeted with a tapestry of costume designs. Sketches of extravagant dresses and period costume paint the entrance way, allowing me to begin collating an idea of what to expect. Silently waiting for the chorus to open the scene, I sat anticipating the voices that would emanate from these fresh-faced performers. It was hard to envision how the world of The Golden Cockerel would come to life as looked on at actors in modern attire and half-built sets, but this was soon changed once the music began.

COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOOOOO! A petite young woman filled the studio with her echoing cry. Stunned by the sheer power these performers could produce solely from their voice, my mind immediately started transforming the space into an absurd and zany Russian empire. I sat in awe (often forgetting I was supposed to be doing my job and taking pictures…), goosebumps rippling throughout my body and often finding myself laughing at the brilliant wit that is woven into the language of this opera.

I was incredibly honoured to have been invited to experience a first look at what this amazing company is producing and if I could suggest doing one thing during March, it would be to go and experience first-hand the pure brilliance of English Touring Opera.

Ashton Corbin

Published 8 February 2022