What’s On: Ellen Kent’s Rigoletto and Madama Butterfly @ Bristol Hippdrome

by Polly Hember

The award-winning producer and director Ellen Kent has been hailed as the biggest supplier of opera and ballet in the UK and Ireland. This January, she brings Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Verdi’s Rigoletto to Bristol, as part of a UK tour. Her incredible career holds moments such as breaking opera box office records in the history of the Manchester Opera House, being nominated twice as ‘European Women of the Year’, and numerous awards including ‘Best Opera’ in the Liverpool Daily Post Awards and ‘Best Contribution to the Arts in Moldova’ from the President of Moldova. She brings two traditional productions to Bristol with stunning retellings that capture the passion and intricacy of the classics, outstanding soloists and a full orchestra.

Rigoletto is known as the opera that fell under scrutiny and censorship when it was first performed, banned after the first opening night until Verdi dropped some key scenes. Rigoletto follows the tale of a jester’s daughter who is charmed by an unreliable ruler, resulting in tragedy when her father tries to intervene. 

Based on Victor Hugo’s play ‘The King Who Amuses Himself’ which was banned for sexual content and acerbic political commentary at the time of publication. Verdi turned the tragic play into an opera, construing the superfluous sexual depravity of the Mantuan Ducal Court through the inclusion of naked courtesans on stage, which created uproar at the time. The opera was banned after one performance. Battling with censors in Italy, he removed the rape scene and renamed the opera Rigoletto. Honouring Verdi’s original intentions, Kent’s production sees the beautiful and seductive naked courtesans that highlight the profligate political landscape, and has also sensitively reintroduced the rape scene that was previously disallowed from the opera.

Performed by a full orchestra, with two royal greyhounds and a magnificent golden eagle boasting a seven-foot wingspan, Kent explores the tragedy, the spectacle and corruption of the Mantuan Ducal Court.

Madama Butterfly is one of the most well-known and one of the most poignant operas. The hit West End musical Miss Saigon is based on this tender tale of a young Japanese girl who falls head over heels in love with an American naval lieutenant. Kent’s production sees breath-taking sets and incredible costume design by the renowned Russian designer Felix Bessonov. The operas will be conducted by Vasyl Vasylenko, who is the artistic director and conductor at the National President's Orchestra of Ukraine, Kiev, and will be conducting 30 members of the outstanding National Ukrainian Orchestra.

Kent’s Rigoletto comes to The Bristol Hippodrome on Thursday, January 18. Book tickets here.

Madama Butterfly flies into The Bristol Hippodrome on Friday, January 19. Tickets available here.

The cast of Rigoletto

Madama Butterfly Production Photograph:  Elena Dee as Cio Cio San

Praise for Kent's Rigoletto


“Some of the best singing to be heard on any British stage.” 

The Independent


“Alyona Kistenyova made a touchingly beautiful Gilda and her arias were pure and sweet.” 

Irish Examiner


“Special mention for Iurie Gisca who wonderfully reflected all facets of Nabucco’s character: his intensity as despot; his descent into madness; the reality of his resurrection. ” 

North West End Manchester


Praise for Kent’s Madama Butterfly



“Stunning and emotionally charged.” 

Cardiff Morning Star


“Above all it was a production which captured the raw emotion at the centre of the opera. Don’t take a handkerchief with you, take a box of them.”  

The Independent


“This is a Butterfly to cherish.” 

Manchester Evening News


“The handsome Spanish tenor Giorgio Meladze filled the role of Pinkerton so well there were even some boos at the curtain call.” 

Birmingham Mail

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