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The Siege of Calais

Critics' choice

What does it mean to be a citizen? What is it that a citizen owes to his city, or country? This is the question posed by Donizetti’s rarely performed epic 'L’assedio di Calais' – a ‘serious’ opera, sung in Italian, constructed of bel canto arias and ensembles of extraordinary quality.

It is the story of the burghers of Calais (depicted by Rodin in his famous sculpture outside the Houses of Parliament), citizens who offer up their lives to save their city from a besieging army. Their sacrifice is quiet, ordinary, sublime – and it culminates in one of the most moving ensembles in all of opera, the momentous 'O sacra polve, o suol natio' ('O Sacred Earth').

The opera also includes poignant, intimate scenes between the young couple at the heart of the drama (played by soprano Paula Sides and by mezzo Helen Sherman in a role originally written for a musico), and between the leader of the city (baritone Eddie Wade) and his anguished followers. Meanwhile, at the gates, the triumphant Edward III (played by extraordinary young baritone Cozmin Sime) shouts for blood.

ETO’s new production features designs by Faroese artist Samal Blak, inspired by the siege of Stalingrad. James Silver conducts a 25-piece orchestra. Directed by James Conway.

(Sung in Italian with English surtitles. Running time: two hours.)