Wilbur the donkey set to be star of opera

Wilbur the donkey with his 13-year-old owner Dana Phin
Wilbur the donkey with his 13-year-old owner Dana Phin

The cast of new production of the opera Carmen are looking forward to welcoming a new addition to the company – Wilbur the donkey.

Wilbur will take a break from his home near Thrapston to tread the boards alongside the Moldovan National Opera and the Moldovan National Philharmonic Orchestra when they come to the Royal and Derngate in Northampton on February 24.

Producer/ director Ellen Kent said: “Incorporating a donkey into the production lends it a real taste of Spain. My mother used to run the equivalent of the RSPCA in Spain when I was growing up and the farm was full of 30 to 40 donkeys, the same number of dogs and even more cats.

“We used to travel miles across the countryside to festivals when they were planning to sacrifice a donkey. We’d buy the donkey off them and run – often chased by villagers. There was never a dull moment.

“The animals were always my mother’s top priority. It’s a tribute to her really, that I use donkeys in the show – she would have been delighted and the audience always love it, especially as we try to use rescue donkeys from the local area.”

Wilbur, a 10.2hh grey donkey, belongs to 13-year-old Dana Phin, who will go on stage with him armed with his favourite carrots and apples to ensure the three-year-old doesn’t get stage-fright.

A collection on the night will raise money for donkey welfare.

Ellen is drawing inspiration from paintings by Goya for her production of Carmen, set against the backdrop of the bullring and full of images of orange trees, fountains, flowers and the hot, dusty Moorish architecture.

Bizet’s dramatic and sensuous opera Carmen tells the story of the downfall of soldier Don Jose, who is seduced by the fiery, beautiful and passionate gypsy Carmen. Abandoning both his childhood sweetheart and his military career, Jose pursues Carmen but loses her to the glamorous bullfighter Escamillo. In true tragic operatic fashion, Jose can’t bear to be without Carmen and stabs her in a jealous rage.

The new show marks the return of Opera and Ballet International as Ellen revives her role as promoter after a four-year break.

The celebrated Moldovan National Opera and the Moldovan National Philharmonic Orchestra perform, alongside international soloists mezzo soprano Nadia Stoianova as Carmen and tenor Sorin Lupu as Don Jose.

There will also be a performance of Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton on February 25 – a dramatic and violent tale of love and lust resulting in torture, murder and suicide alongside some of opera’s best-known music. Soprano Maria Tsonina is Tosca, alongside baritone Vladimir Dragos, returning to sing his most celebrated role as Scarpia.

Set in Rome and based on a play by Victorien Sardou, it was once described as a “shabby little shocker”.

Opera diva Floria Tosca fears for the fidelity of her lover Mario, only to discover that it is the Baron Scarpia’s lust for her that endangers that love. A complex agreement of bargains and bluffs follow, to the detriment of all, with a truly tragic ending.

For more information on the 74-date tour of the UK and Ireland, go to www.ellenkent.com or follow @OperaBalletIntl on Twitter .

Tickets are on sale from the box office on 01604 624811 or go online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk.