Ellen Kent: “I don’t do opera to educate, I do opera to entertain”

After the announcement of a new triple-header for 2025, the impresario reflects on what makes her brand of opera so popular

Ellen Kent, perhaps the UK’s greatest modern opera and ballet impresario, is bringing another triple-header of operatic classics to the UK in 2025.

Following a successful run of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Verdi’s La Traviata and Bizet’s Carmen earlier this year with the Ukrainian Opera & Ballet Theatre Kyiv, Kent and Sembla continue their creative partnership as they update their programme for spring 2025. There will be new productions of Madama Butterfly and La Traviata, while Carmen will be replaced with another Puccini classic, La Bohème.

Making her career debut as an opera producer at Rochester Castle in 1992 with Verdi’s Nabucco, which she has often put down as a happy accident, Kent soon went on to revolutionise the way we see opera. Over a cigar and dram of “rather good whiskey,” Kent describes being inspired after seeing Luciano Pavarotti sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ at the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.

“That opened up opera to move away from only the top AB audiences who were all very spiffy and had to be highly intellectual and all that sort of thing. I knocked that off, and I have to say I am responsible for opera bringing in the masses. I can cheerfully say that that’s what I’ve achieved over my long career.”

Working almost exclusively with orchestras and opera and ballet companies from Eastern Europe, Kent has broken box office records and was the first producer to bring these European operas on major tours in the UK. A large part of this success has been her eye for a visual extravaganza. “I make a show like a big musical, in a way,” she says. “One journalist slightly rudely wrote ‘Ellen Kent with her Las Vegas style of opera,’ but that’s what I still do. I have horses in the shows, golden eagles, greyhounds. I turn it into a spectacle. It’s the dog that gets all the press coverage, and my horses were looked after better than any soloist, I might add…”

Ellen Kent Hackney Empire Foyer

“If you’re going to sit at an opera for three hours,” she continues, “you want to be entertained. I don’t do opera to educate, I do it to entertain.”

That said, though an Ellen Kent production amps up the entertainment, her narratives never veer far from the original texts. “I went to Puccini’s house once and I actually saw these wonderful things that looked like mine. I thought my god, what I’m doing is what Puccini would have done. You can’t completely negate the actual essence of what that opera was when it was created. You can stick to what was in the mind’s eye and the vision of Puccini, Verdi and the people that actually created them.”

There should be something for the purists and those seeking to dip their toes into the world of opera for the first time next spring, then, with a chance to see the return of fan favourites and a new addition.

Ellen Kent directs La Bohème, Madama Butterfly and La Traviata, which tour UK theatres throughout spring 2025 – tickets can be found here