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Behind the Scenes of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra’s Persuasion Musical

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Barbara Landis, artistic director of Chamber Opera Tours, found Jane Austen’s language so perfect that it begged to be adapted to theatrical lyrics. She felt that the text would be most appropriately set to music of the era rather than contemporary compositions, as is often done with other modern adaptations of Austen’s works. She and Chamber Opera Artistic Administrator Kerri Burkhardt were thrilled to discover that Jane Austen had personally hand-copied eight volumes of manuscripts of the music that she had played on the pianoforte and her family had enjoyed. With the help of the Chawton House Library, the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, and the Winchester Library, Landis and Burkhardt researched her manuscripts extensively to choose musical works that were best suited to tell the story of Persuasion. The result is a labour of love and homage to Jane that is especially appropriate this year in the 200th anniversary of her death and the first publication of the novel.

This original musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which first premiered at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago in 2011, has been touring internationally since 2013. This summer, Chamber Opera Tours will return once again to the UK to perform 7 shows in six cities between 16th and 31st July, including the Buxton Fringe Festival, Winchester, Bristol, Stratford-upon-Avon, Lyme Regis, and the Camden Fringe Festival in London. These mostly one-night-only performances are popular sell-outs year after year.

This widely acclaimed stage production features stage direction by Coventry native Nick Sandys and Kyle Dougan (University of London), musical direction by Linda Madonia, choreography by Sara Stewart Schumann and projected scenery design by John Boesche.

Chamber Opera Tours is a professional not-for-profit opera company devoted to making great opera and musicals affordable, presenting them in English in intimate settings. The Chamber Opera orchestra is distinguished by first-rate conductors and orchestral players and has been highly praised by both critics and audience members alike. With award-winning designers and acclaimed directors from around the world, audiences can expect high-quality, innovative productions that bring opera to life.

The performance timeline begins with Austen recounting her story to a niece and nephew, and then as Anne Elliot, the protagonist of Persuasion. Anne has rejected a proposal of marriage from the one man she truly loved, Captain Frederick Wentworth. She was persuaded by her godmother that Captain Wentworth was unworthy, but, after a separation of almost a decade, he returns from sea with both rank and fortune. The tables have turned; Anne is nearly an old maid, and her once-rich family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Can Anne win him back? Can he forgive her for breaking off their engagement rather than following her heart? And can their lost love be rekindled? One of the most powerful love stories ever written, this authentic rendering of Jane Austen’s novel will transport you back in time.

Chamber Opera Tour’s adaptation of Persuasion has often been compared to an operetta in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan. Add to that over 30 singers and a 10-piece chamber orchestra, Regency costumes, beautiful projected scenery, and world-champion Irish dancers and you have an evening of spectacular entertainment!  It has garnered rave reviews such as:

“No ‘Persuasion’ needed to see this treat for the eyes and ears…astounding!” (Isle of Wight County Press)

**** “There is perfect synchronicity between the cast and the impressive chamber orchestra.  One of the most striking observations for Austen fans is Barbara Landis’ commitment to retaining much original dialogue which is complemented superbly by Austen’s favourite music and luxurious costumes. There are a great many highlights to this performance – not least the rousing sailor songs which demonstrate the vocal talents of the entire company and treat us to Irish tap routines of the highest order. The telling of the story, in addition to the device of Austen as narrator, is aided by means of absorbing projections which transport us from the noble Kellynch Hall to Bath via the seaside at Lyme. Certainly, this production ticks every box.” (Broadway Baby, 4-star review featured in the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival)

“Flashes of humour, great dancing, a small but perfect orchestra, clever scene changes with very well done projections, and the cast of over 30 all playing their roles to perfection … one of the best evening’s entertainment I’ve had!” (Bury Free Press)

More information on tickets and UK performance locations as well as further reviews can be found at http://www.chamberoperatours.org/.

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