Small picture of Donizetti




Donizetti's The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais)

English Touring Opera,  March 7 - May 26, 2015

Photographs by Bill Knight, courtesy of English Touring Opera


English Touring Opera's Spring 2015 tour includes a revival of Donizetti's The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and new productions of Donizetti's The Wild Man of the West Indies and Puccini's La bohème. Robert Hugill (Planet Hugill, March 8, 2015) wrote an extensive critique in which he said that "This was Donizetti at his best, with the company showing how Donizetti's finest tragic music [has] a real dramatic force when performed by those who understand it." David Karlin (Bachtrack, March 8, 2015) was enthusiastic about the singing but felt that some of the orchestral detail could have been better.  However, overall he concluded that "its true-to-life portrait of a besieged people left me genuinely touched. I'm very glad to have seen it."

Alan Jackson, the Society Treasurer, saw the revival of The Siege of Calais in Hackney on March 7 and has sent the following:

English Touring Opera have again done Donizetti proud. The Siege is a revival of their 2013 production, while The Wild Man is new. Both are sung in Italian (with summary, not literal, surtitles). Both are rarities. Neither has usual operatic romantic love at its core, but both treat important issues: love (conjugal and filial), sacrifice, forgiveness. Compared to the big London companies ETO is run on a shoe-string budget and you won’t hear great international voices and a huge orchestra or see lavish sets, but much more importantly, you always experience committed and honest productions. ETO believes in both these Donizetti operas as serious drama expressed through apt and beautiful music.

Originally Donizetti wrote L’assedio in three acts, with a ballet and a happy aria finale for the soprano as The Burghers of Calais are pardoned along with their citizens. ETO jettisons much of the third act, and the opera ends with the Burghers going to their death in the most powerful final fifteen minutes imaginable. Trust me: those responsible for this ETO edition have done a superb job and a tragic masterpiece has been revealed. Lest it be thought that I am in the pay of ETO, I can report that I found the vocal performances variable. The Eustachio of Craig Smith was excellent, Catherine Carby and Paula Sides were good as Aurelio and Eleonora (though I remember Helen Sherman as superior in the former role in 2013 – she takes over later in the run), Grant Doyle disappointed in the fioriture of Eduardo’s aria, a transplant from the original Act III that needs a virtuoso rendering (though an acquaintance at the rehearsal was impressed, but I write as I find), and of the important small parts, Andrew Glover sounded out of voice though Peter Brathwaite shone. But this was very much a performance where the whole was so much greater than the sum of its parts.

It was sympathetically conducted by Jeremy Silver, who unfailingly found tempi right for the music and obtained decent playing from the ETO orchestra – I won’t pretend it has the finesse or tonal allure of London’s permanent opera bands, but like the chorus it is enthusiastic and committed. The grim set for The Siege is utterly convincing.

Full details of their tour can be found at  including a visit to the Thália Theatre, Budapest on June 30. There is more good news: Pia de’Tolomei is planned for their tour in Spring 2016. Dare one also hope that a whisper of Il paria is still alive for the future? Meanwhile, don’t miss these current offerings.

For a review and photographs of the 2013 production, see


The Team


Eustachio - Craig Smith

Eleonora - Paula Sides

Aurelio - Catherine Carby / Helen Sherman

Edoardo - Grant Doyle / Nicholas Merryweather

Pietro de Wisants - Matthew Stiff

Giovanni - Andrew Glover

Edmondo  - Ronan Busfield

Giacomo de Wisants - Matt R J Ward

Armando - Jan Capinski

Incognito - Peter Brathwaite


Conductor - Jeremy Silver

Director - James Conway

Designer - Samal Blak

Lighting Designer - Mark  Howland



Edoardo and chorus



Eleonora and Eustachio



Chorus, Incognito (on box) and Eustachio



Aurelio and Leonora



Eleonora, Eustachio and Chorus




Page last updated: March 25, 2015