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From Russia with love; Producer Alexej Ignatow tells MARION MCMULLEN why he is passionate about bringing opera to the UK.

Byline: MARION MCMULLEN

Producer Alexej Ignatow wants to share his passion for Opera with as wide an audience as possible What makes you excited about classical music? CLASSICAL music is timeless! When performing operas and ballets, it is always exciting to imagine the time when the music was composed and how it's still so relevant and enjoyable today.

I don't think people will ever get tired of listening to classical music.

Were you interested in music growing up? UNFORTUNATELY at a very young age, being a boy, I convinced my mother to swap piano lessons to football.

Who would have thought that so many years later I would be putting classical performances on stage with opera and ballet? I know everyone around me says that it is never too late to start again, but having amazing musicians and artists around me makes me wonder why I should learn when these people can do it so brilliantly already. In a million years I would not be able to replace them in orchestra pit or on stage.

What are the highlights of the new tour? THIS season we will have three opera productions from Russian State Opera - Carmen, Madama Butterfly and La Traviata. We are excited to work this year with the Mari State Opera and Ballet Theatre.

All three operas are eternal opera classics and audience can expect new costumes and staging. It should be a wonderful evening out with beautiful singing and a feast-forthe-eyes sets. Most of the singers come from Russia and the former Soviet Union.

How many people are involved in taking the productions on the road? WE usually have around 85 to 90 people on tour. It is a lot of people, but everyone has their own role. When we are on tour, we all work and live as one big family.

Each production has numerous costumes for each scene plus we use decorated sets to paint a picture for that particular opera.

Unlike ballet, where you need to keep the stage clear of all objects, in opera you are trying to do the opposite.

How long does it take to plan tours? THE work begins more than 18 months in advance. Each step in the process has its own place, so once a stage is completed, we are able to move on to the next. Roughly one year before the tour, we know our schedule and where we will be performing.

When did it all begin in the UK? IN AUTUMN 2006, when we brought the Russian Cossacks to the UK for the first time. That was a great learning curve. You can never imagine and account for all the details that can happen when you are physically on tour.

The best lesson I learned was how to be flexible and how to be able to quickly adapt to situations!

We have now been touring here for more than 11 years and have organised more than 25 ballet and opera tours, which equates to more than 1,000 performances. This year we will be staging more than 140 performances across the UK.

What are your audiences like? THIS is one great aspect that keeps us going even in hard times as the audience is very loyal and responsive. We get lots of emails of praise and thanks every year, which proves that we are doing something right.

We also have followers that are there for each of our performances, which is a great inspiration.

Every year we get more and more first timers, especially for opera, and they just love it.

The comments we get are 'why did I not come to the theatre earlier?' It is very motivational to see young and old audience members coming to experience opera and ballet!

What would you say to first time audiences who don't know what to expect? CHOOSE a title that you are familiar with or with music you might know.

Carmen is a great way to start your opera life because there are so many recognisable tunes. For ballet you could say the same for The Nutcracker.

There seems to be a big barrier between people's perception that opera is only for upper class and that you need to be wearing black tie. Of course, wearing a nice outfit adds to the experience, but under no circumstances it is a must. We always try to break this down and make our productions as accessible as possible to everyone.

It would be a great shame and loss if classical productions were limited to one particular group of people.

How would you describe your perfect day? MY perfect day would be spending time with my wife, playing golf and enjoying a spontaneous evening with our two boys, who are seven and four. It gets busier as we get closer to the tour and it all kicks off. | Carmen and La Traviata tour the UK from August and Madama Butterfly from September 1. Go to amande-concerts.co.uk for details.

The new tour features productions of Madama Butterfly, main image, plus Carmen, left and La Traviata, right
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 23, 2018
Words:848
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