FOR most of its existence Donizetti's L'assedio di Calais has languished outside the operatic firmament, in part no doubt due to challenges posed by its uneven structure and patchily constructed narrative, which the composer himself acknowledged.

English Touring Opera therefore showed admirable courage in presenting this neglected work, but their real achievement was in doing so with such imagination, energy and conviction.

The success of the production lay in its rigorous attention to detail and unwavering focus: everything was done to create a compelling spectacle. Thus, Samal Blak's starkly effective set design, Ace McCarron's evocative lighting, James Conway's richly layered direction and the powerful yet sympathetic accompaniment provided by the orchestra (under the sure-footed direction of conductor, Jeremy Silver) all united to pave the way for strong performances from the cast. Helen Sherman was impressive in the part of Aurelio, her extraordinary vocal range only matched by a remarkable expressive facility, masterfully sustaining the seething, passionate intensity crucial to her role. Also outstanding was Eddie Wade, suitably dignified and stoic as Eustachio, and Paula Sides as Eleonora, whose duets with Sherman were achingly beautiful highlights.

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These central figures were supported by a wonderfully active chorus spared the usual ignominy of merely pointing and gurning at the protagonists, and instead often given their own carefully choreographed mini-dramas to play out around the main action

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