REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on English Touring Opera’s Lucrezia Borgia and Il Viaggio a Reims, York Theatre Royal

Paula Sides’s Lucrezia in English Touring Opera’s Lucrezia Borgia

English Touring Opera, York Theatre Royal, Lucrezia Borgia, March 24, and Il Viaggio a Reims, March 25

IT is always good to have English Touring Opera (ETO) back in York, especially when it is offering repertory off the beaten ‘BBC’ track – Butterfly, Bohème and Carmen, as they are known on the street.

Best of all, it is some time since we have enjoyed bel canto here, the style that prizes lightness and flexibility over weighty declamation.

Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia of 1833 is based on a play written the previous year by Victor Hugo. It has tended to underline the notoriety of the historical figure of its title, although more recently historians have been kinder to her, dissociating her from the machinations and debaucheries of her father and brothers.

Certainly that was the approach taken by Eloise Lally’s new production. Adam Wiltshire’s clever permanent set offered a colonnaded courtyard which became the Borgia residence when cast-iron gates were added and even a stateroom with handsome stained-glass windows.

Paula Sides made an appealing Lucrezia, not least because she had the flexibility to handle Donizetti’s coloratura with ease. It was good to be reminded that bel canto techniques still flourish in this country and are particularly well suited to the mainly smaller venues that a touring company must encounter.  

She reserved her finest singing for the last act, in which her initially acid tone dissolved into smoother motherly love, as she begged her dying son in vain to drink the antidote to his poison. This gave a riveting close to what had otherwise been a less gripping evening.

As her son Gennaro, Thomas Elwin’s neatly Italianate tenor was consistently passionate throughout its well-focused range, making more of his character than the slightly wimpish fellow that Donizetti offers. His closing arioso was moving.

Aidan Edwards pressed his fine bass-baritone into excellent service, making the most of his limited opportunities as Duke Alfonso. In the mezzo trouser role of Maffio Orsini, Katie Coventry made a loveable rogue, definitely one of the lads and revelling in his famous drinking-song. She is an engaging actress.

Gerry Cornelius conducted the period-style Old Street Band with stylish control, encouraging his woodwinds to supply a good deal of colour. The various minor roles also supplied the chorus of maskers, spies, guards and nobles.

Valentina Ceschi’s production of Rossini’s last Italian opera, Il Viaggio a Reims (The Journey To Reims), was a merry romp. The journey, of course, never takes place and the comedy is built around the many setbacks that prevent it.

This is very much an ensemble opera, with a dozen international clients holed up at the Inn of the Golden Lily, each of whom Ceschi differentiated skilfully, all waiting to attend the imminent coronation of Charles X. The name and the event could hardly be more timely.

If there is one central figure it is the Roman poetess Corinna, who is known and admired by all her fellow guests. Susanna Hurrell (Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare, which was given elsewhere on tour but not in York) sang her with admirable composure, notably in her delectable aria with harp (played from a box).

She was the one oasis of calm amongst a rowdy esoteric bunch. The colonnade from Lucrezia now decorated the courtyard of the hotel, looking out over the French countryside (until a coup de théâtre transformed the backdrop to blue skies).

All the guests enjoyed their moment in their sun, with at least one aria each, while also bringing a snippet of their own national music to the finale. Notable among a cast with not a single weak link were Luci Briginshaw’s French countess, lamenting the loss of her haute couture, Jean-Kristof Bouton’s pompous Spanish admiral, and the English peer of Edward Hawkins, whose aria was much enhanced by its flute obbligato.

Lucy Hall as the innkeeper maintained an appropriately tenuous hold on the proceedings and détente was satisfyingly achieved by the end. It was all delightfully frothy, kept so by the whirligig of a conductor Jonathan Peter Kenny, although the Old Street Band wisely treated some of his more outrageous gyrations with a certain scepticism.

But a word is in order for the rollicking accompaniments to the recitatives, provided only by Gavin Kibble’s cello and Carina Cosgrave’s double bass, right in style.

ETO has justly survived the Arts Council cuts that are wreaking havoc elsewhere. We should be immensely grateful for their regular visits. Long may they continue.

Review by Martin Dreyer

More Things To Do in York & beyond as everyday Buddy’s a gettin’ closer, goin’ faster than a roller coaster. Hutch’s list No. 12 for 2023, courtesy of The Press, York

Rave on: Hannah Price, left, Harry Boyd, Christopher Weeks, Rhiannon Hopkins, Joshua Barton and Ben Pryer in a scene from Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story

THE return of Buddy, Stewart Lee and English Touring Opera, a dream of an exhibition and a vintage DJ night of song top Charles Hutchinson’s diary highlights for the week ahead.

Musical of the week: Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees

HOLLYLUJAH! Rock’n’roll musical Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story returns to York for the first time since 2017 with “The day the music died” tale of the bespectacled young man from Lubbock, Texas, whose meteoric rise from Southern rockabilly beginnings to international stardom ended in his death in a plane crash at only 22.

Christopher Weeks’s Buddy leads the cast of actor-musicians through two hours of music and drama, romance and tragedy, driven by all those hits, from That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue and Rave On to Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba. Box office:

Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle: Playing The Crescent on Sunday night

Folk gig of the week: Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker & John Doyle, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 8pm

THE Black Swan Folk Club and Please Please You present the powerhouse triumvirate of musical magpies McGoldrick, McCusker and Doyle in a Sunday session of traditional, contemporary and original jigs, reels and ballads, as heard on their two albums, 2018’s The Wishing Tree and 2020’s The Reed That Bends In The Storm.

Their paths first crossing as teenagers before they joined separate bands (Lunasa, The Battlefield Band and Solas respectively), they line up with Mancunian McGoldrick on flute, whistles, Uileann pipes, bodhran, clarinet and congas; Glaswegian McCusker on fiddle, whistles and harmonium; Dubliner Doyle on vocals, guitar, bouzouki and mandola.

“The whole thing’s great fun,” says McCusker. “We have no agenda other than having a nice time and playing music. That’s the way we tour as well – we throw ourselves in a little car, instruments on our laps, and off we go. And the records? Well, I hope it’s the sound of three old friends, having a great time, making music together.” Box office:

Stewart Lee goes back to basic Lee at York Theatre Royal, but sold out, basically

Comedy at the treble: Stewart Lee: Basic Lee, York Theatre Royal, Monday to Wednesday, 7.30pm

AFTER recording last May’s brace of Snowflake and Tornado gigs at York Theatre Royal for broadcast on the BBC, Stewart Lee returns for three nights of his Basic Lee show.

Following a decade of high-concept shows involving overarched, interlinked narratives, Lee enters the post-pandemic era in streamlined stand-up mode. One man, one microphone, and one microphone in the wings in case the one on stage breaks. Pure. Simple. Classic. Basic Lee – but sold out, alas.  

Navigators Art collective explores the subconscious mind in Dream Time at City Screen Picturehouse

Exhibition launch of the week: Navigators Art, Dream Time, City Screen Picturehouse, York, on show until April 21

YORK collective Navigators Art’s Dream Time exhibition takes inspiration from dreams, visions, surrealism and the mysteries and fantasies of the subconscious mind. The official launch event will be held tomorrow (19/3/2023) in the café bar from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

This mixed-media show features painting by Steve Beadle and Peter Roman; collage, prints and drawing by Richard Kitchen; photography and painting by Nick Walters and textiles by Katie Lewis.

The tour poster for Sounds Of The 60s with Tony Blackburn as host

Nostalgic show of the week: Tony Blackburn: Sound Of The 60s Live, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm

BBC Radio 2 disc jockey Tony Blackburn hosts an evening of 1960s’ classics, performed live by the Sound Of The 60s All Star Band and Singers. 

Listen out for the hits of The Everly Brothers, Dusty Springfield, The Kinks, Elvis Presley, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Otis Redding, The Beatles, The Who and many more. Box office:

Paul Smith: Playing the Joker at York Barbican

Liverpool lip of the week: Paul Smith: Joker, York Barbican, Thursday, 7.30pm

JOKER is Paul Smith’s biggest and funniest tour show to date, wherein the Scouse humorist mixes his trademark audience interaction with true stories from his everyday life.

Resident compere at Liverpool’s Hot Water Club, Smith has made his mark online as well as on the gig circuit with his affable nature and savvy wit. Box office:

Roddy Woomble: Songs old and new at Selby Town Hall

Indie gig of the week: Roddy Woomble, Selby Town Hall, Thursday, 8pm

RODDY Woomble, Scottish indie band Idlewild’s lead singer, is now a leading voice in the British contemporary indie folk scene. In Selby, he is joined by Idlewild band mate Andrew Wasylyk for a duo show of Idlewild favourites and solo works.

“This is a tour in between records, so a tour for exploring all the songs,” says Woomble. “Lo! Soul is going on two years old now, and although the songs still sound fresh to me when I play them, it’s time for something new – which there is. We’ll definitely be including some new material in the set.” Box office:

Paula Sides’s Lucrezia in English Touring Opera’s Lucrezia Borgia, on tour at York Theatre Royal

Two nights at the opera: English Touring Opera, York Theatre Royal, in Lucrezia Borgia, March 24, and Il Viaggio a Reims, March 25, both 7.30pm

LUCREZIA Borgia, Donizetti’s tragedy of a complex woman in a dangerous situation, is making its debut in the English Touring Opera repertoire in Eloise Lally’s ETO directorial debut production of this thrilling and moving meditation on power and motherhood.

Valentina Ceschi directs a cast of 27 in Il Viaggio a Reims, Rossini’s last Italian opera, in which intrigue, politics, romance and lost luggage all play their part as a group of entitled guests from all over Europe is stranded in a provincial hotel on the way to a great coronation. Period-instrument specialists The Old Street Band play for both operas. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Gig announcement of the week: Steve Earle, The Alone Again Tour, Grand Opera House, York, June 9

Steve Earle: Heading from New York to York in June for solo show

AS his tour title suggests, legendary Americana singer, songwriter, producer, actor, playwright, novelist, short story writer and radio presenter Steve Earle will be performing solo and acoustic in York: the only Yorkshire gig of a ten-date itinerary without his band The Dukes that will take in the other Barbican, in London, and Glastonbury.

Born in Fort Monroae National Monument, Hampton, Virginia, Earle grew up in Texas and began his songwriting career in Nashville, releasing his first EP in 1982 and debut album Guitar Town in 1986, since when he has branched out from country music into rock, bluegrass, folk music and blues. 

His colourful life prompted Lauren St John’s 2003 biography Hardcore Troubadour: The Life And Near Death Of Steve Earle, written with the rebel rocker’s exclusive and unfettered cooperation. “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself,” he once said.

Earle, 68, has been married seven times (including twice to the same woman) and been through drug addiction and run-ins with the law, serving a month in prison in 1994 for heroin possession. “Going to jail is what saved my life,” he said, after he was sent to rehab.

A protege of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, Earle is a masterful storytelling songwriter in his own right, with his songs being recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, The Proclaimers and The Pretenders, among others.

Since the Millennium, he has released such albums as the Grammy-awarded The Revolution Starts…Now (2004), Washington Square Serenade (2007) and Townes (2009).

Restlessly creative across artistic disciplines, Earle has published a collection of short stories, Doghouse Roses (2002) ; a novel, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (2011), and a memoir, I Can’t Remember If We said Goodbye (2015).

He has produced albums for Joan Baez and Lucinda Williams, acted in films and on television, notably in David Simon’s The Wire, and hosts a radio show for Sirius XM.

In 2009, Earle made his off-Broadway theatre debut in the play Samara, contributing the score too. In 2010, he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Music and Lyrics in the drama series Treme.

In 2020, he wrote music for and appeared in Coal Country, a docu-play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen that shines a light on the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the most deadly mining disaster in United States history. A nomination for a Drama Desk Award came his way.

In 2020 too, Earle released the album Ghosts Of West Virginia and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His 21st studio album, J.T. in January 2021, was an homage to his late son, singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, who had died from an accidental drug overdose in August 2020. In May 2022 came Jerry Jeff, Earle’s tribute to cowboy troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker.

Tickets go on sale on Thursday morning (23/3/2023) at

The artwork for J.T., Steve Earle’s 2021 album of covers of songs by his late son, Justin Townes Earle

Directorial debuts mark English Touring Opera’s Lucrezia Borgia and Il Viaggio a Reims at York Theatre Royal next week

Paula Sides as Lucrezia Borgia in English Touring Opera’s Lucrezia Borgia. Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

ENGLISH Touring Opera returns to York Theatre Royal with two deeply contrasting operas, Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia on March 24 and Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims the following night, each directed by a woman staging her first production with the London company.

Period-instrument specialists The Old Street Band will play for both operas, the first time the operas by Donizetti and Rossini have toured in the United Kingdom with a period instrument orchestra. 

Donizetti’s tragedy of a complex woman in a dangerous situation, Lucrezia Borgia, is making its debut in the English Touring Opera (ETO) repertoire in a new production of this thrilling and moving meditation on power and motherhood by Eloise Lally in her ETO directorial debut. 

Paula Sides takes the title role, with Thomas Elwin as Gennaro, Katie Coventry as Orsini and Aidan Edwards as Alfonso. ETO music director Gerry Cornelius conducts.   

English Touring Opera in Il Viaggio a Reims: Left to right: Llio Evans (Modestina), Lucy Hall (Contessa di Folleville), Esme Bronwen-Smith (Marchesa Melibea), Julian Henao Gonzales (Conte de Libenskopf), Richard Dowling (Chevalier Belfiore), Grant Doyle (Barone di Trombonok), Jean-Kristof Bouton (Don Alvaro), Timothy Dawkins (Don Profundo), Edward Hawkins (Lord Sidney), Lucy Hall (Madame Cortese), Jerome Knox (Don Prudenzio) and Eleanor Sanderson-Nash (Delia) . Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

The new production of Il Viaggio a Reims (March 25 is another first for ETO. Intrigue, politics, romance and lost luggage all play their part in Rossini’s last Italian opera, as a group of entitled guests from all over Europe is stranded in a provincial hotel on the way to a great coronation. 

Featuring a cast of 27 – one of the largest ever assembled by ETO – the production features the burgeoning  singing talents of Lucy Hall as Madame Cortese, Luci Briginshaw as Contessa di Folleville, Susanna Hurrell as Corinna and Julian Henao Gonzalez as Conte di Lebenskopf. 

Valentina Ceschi, who directed ETO’s online opera The Firebirdlast year, makes her ETO theatrical directorial debut; ETO artist in association Jonathan Peter Kenny conducts.

Lucrezia Borgia and Il Viaggio a Reims are part of ETO’s first season under the leadership of new general director Robin Norton-Hale. Tickets for the two 7.30pm performances are on sale on 01904 623568 or at

0785: L-R: Llio Evans (Modestina), Lucy Hall (Contessa di Folleville), Esme Bronwen-Smith (Marchesa Melibea), Julian Henao Gonzales (Conte de Libenskopf), Richard Dowling (Chevalier Belfiore), Grant Doyle (Barone di Trombonok), Jean-Kristof Bouton (Don Alvaro), Timothy Dawkins (Don Profundo), Edward Hawkins (Lord Sidney), Lucy Hall (Madame Cortese), Jerome Knox (Don Prudenzio), Eleanor Sanderson-Nash (Delia) in Il viaggio a Reims