London-based English Touring Opera’s (ETO) spring season will comprise new productions of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia (1833) and Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Reims, 1825), as well as a revival of the company’s popular 2017 version of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, the touring company has revealed. All three productions open at east London’s Hackney Empire before touring to venues across England.

ETO’s spring season opens on 25 February with a revival of ETO artistic director James Conway’s much-praised production of Giulio Cesare. Considered one of Handel’s greatest operas, the work is a thrilling story of passion and revenge in the midst of bitter power struggles over the succession to Egypt’s throne. The plot is loosely based on historic events during the Roman Civil War of 49-45 BCE.

Cleopatra and her brother Tolomeo are joint rulers of Egypt when Giulio Cesare arrives in the country in pursuit of his enemy Pompeo. Seeing the opportunity to tip the balance of power in her favour, Cleopatra entreats Cesare to help her depose her brother.

Cesare and Cleopatra fall in love, and as their passion soars, Cesare finds himself drawn into a dangerous web of bloodthirsty ambition. Tolomeo tries to assassinate the Roman leader and fails. The boy king is then himself slain by a rival. Cleopatra is crowned queen of Egypt and Cesare returns home.

Once again the production is accompanied by the period instrument specialists of the Old Street Band, conducted by Sergey Rybin. The production runs from 25 February to 11 May. After opening in Hackney, it travels to Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, and Buxton Opera House.

The first new production of the season is Lucrezia Borgia directed by Eloise Lally and conducted by English Touring Opera’s music director Gerry Cornelius. It tells the tale of the eponymous Spanish-Italian noblewoman, whom history has cast as a femme fatale; she is the subject of rumours concerning allegations of infidelity, incest, poisoning and even murder.

Donizetti’s heroine is a complex woman in a dangerous situation, a cunning strategist and a loving mother at the same time. Lucrezia is married to Alfonso, the duke of Ferrara. He believes his wife is having an affair with a nobleman named Gennaro; she is actually the young man’s mother. Neither Gennaro nor Alfonso are aware of this.

To show his contempt for the Borgias, Gennaro defaces the family crest at Alfonso’s palace. When shown the defaced crest, Lucrezia demands that the culprit be put to death. On finding out that her son was responsible she tries to pardon him. Alfonso takes this as proof of her affair and poisons Gennaro, but Lucrezia gives him the antidote and begs him to leave Ferrara.

Gennaro refuses and instead attends a party at the palace with his friends, who have previously insulted Lucrezia. Unaware that her son is also present, Lucrezia has poisoned the wine in revenge for the insults. She announces what she has done only for Gennaro to reveal himself. The young man’s friends all die and he attempts to kill Lucrezia, stopping only when she tells him she’s his mother. She implores him to take the antidote, but he refuses and dies.

The production runs from 3 March to 12 May. Following its London opening, it plays at Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, Norwich Theatre Royal, York Theatre Royal, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, and Buxton Opera House.

The final work in English Touring Opera’s spring season is Rossini’s comic masterpiece Il Viaggio a Reims. This new production is directed by Valentina Ceschi and conducted by Jonathan Peter Kenny.

Commissioned to celebrate the coronation of French King Charles X in Reims in 1825, the opera tells the story of guests from all over Europe stranded in a provincial hotel while on their way to the coronation.

Several prestigious guests have been The Golden Lily Hotel and Spa. This leads to a comedy of errors involving, among other things, missing luggage and misplaced affections. On the day the guests are to leave for Reims, there are no horses to be found to pull their carriages and they will all miss the coronation.

The day is saved when it’s announced that the king will travel to Paris after leaving Reims, so they can all see him there. They plan a huge banquet at the hotel to celebrate the greatness of France.

The production runs from 4 March to 13 May, opening at Hackney Empire, before heading to the same venues as Lucrezia Borgia.

Further information, including dates, times and ticket prices, are available from English Touring Opera.



English Touring Opera’s spring season 2023 opens with a revival of James Conway’s 2017 production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare.