Fat Lady Warming Up For U.K. Opera

Rigolletto. No, it's not a new pasta dish, or a brand of chewing gum. It's an opera.

And please don’t mention opera in England right now, because the English National Opera company is about to go on strike. Next week all those big diaphragmed divas and overweight bearded tenors will waddle off stage without so much as an aria.

Why? Because the English National Opera is basically bust. The English National Opera isn’t getting the customers, and so the English National Opera is planning to get rid of a third of the talent. This is an English National Tragedy, but perhaps its not so hard to explain…. which is where I came in. Rigolletto.

Yes, it is an opera. But not an English opera. We don’t have much of a reputation for home grown operas. Rigolletto is, of course, Italian.

That’s the trouble with opera. It's mostly foreign, bit of an acquired taste, and almost always unremittingly gloomy. In Rigolletto, Rigolletto’s daughter Gilda falls in love with a Duke, Rigolletto hates the Duke, plans to have him killed, but Gilda ends up on the slab trying to save him. Just the sort of uplifting story you’d really want to spend serious money going out to see, wouldn’t you?

Take another classic – Puccini’s Tosca. Unforgettable music, but Tosca commits suicide at the end. As for the heroine of Verdi’s La Traviata, she dies of consumption just after the interval, and dear old Donizetti who wrote Lucia di Lamamoure has her go completely mad a couple of acts in.

Fancy a bit of Mozart’s Don Giovanni? Actually Don doesn’t have much fun at all - he gets carried away by demons ... not exactly Teflon Don.

And the lovely Carmen, Bizet’s Carmen, gets killed by her jealous lover. Same thing happened to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Both ended up dead. We won't mention Madam Butterfly. Poor lady stabbed herself. While Leonora, in Verdi’s Il Travatore, preferred a dose of poison. Frankly a night at the opera requires a very strong stomach indeed.

And next Tuesday, as far as the performance of the English National Opera is concerned, you’ll need not only a strong stomach but a vivid imagination. The cast will troop off without so much as an intermezzo, and they say they’ll do it again and again until the threat of redundancy is lifted. They were due to perform The Trojans, the Capture of Troy. I’ve never heard of it myself, but I bet you a buck there’s a barrel of blood involved and no one lives happily ever after.