Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Back to the Future

Gotz Friedrich's Ring
Gotz Friedrich's production of The Ring which appeared
at Covent Garden in 1996
Today the Opera and Music Theatre Forum's conference takes place at the Royal Opera House, a one day event in which opera professionals will be looking at what the future holds for opera. The conference's title is Future Tense? and the intention is to answer the question 'what will the world be like in 2030 and how will we deal with it?' So I started to think about what was the world like 17 years ago, and how has our opera going changed? What follows isn't a definitive history, instead its an assemblage of what I can remember, a patchwork of events and opera doings from 1996.

The Internet was only just beginning and certainly you would never use it to watch opera, internet streaming was years away. If you wanted to watch opera at home then you needed a video tape. DVD's had only just been invented, and everything was on CD and on video tape. Recordings were still a big deal even though record companies had started to reduce investment in new recordings. The LSO Live label would not appear for another four years, and that was very much a trail blazer.


ENO had been having something of a struggle with the Arts Council, their then general director Dennis Marks resigned in 1997. Sian Edwards had resigned as music director in 1995 to be replaced by Paul Daniel. Daniel would eventually be joined by Nicholas Payne as general director in what was seen as a positive appointment. But we know that the problems would continue, exacerbated by the eternal problem of what to do with the London Coliseum whose freehold ENO acquired in 1992.

Over at the Royal Opera House they had started their Verdi festival in the run up to the anniversary of Verdi's death in 2001, a plan which would founder on the bigger plans to redevelop the house. Jeremy Isaacs as general director had managed to lead the company into controversy when it came to the plans for the closure of the house during the redevelopment from 1997 to 1999. A TV series, The House allowed cameras back-stage and the general tenor of the management did not come out unscathed. Isaacs resigned in 1996, leading to a period of instability. But the repertoire certainly had its moments, there was a new production of Tippett's A Midsummer Marriage to mark his 91 birthday, Hindemith's Mathis der Mahler and Pfitzner's Palestrina. And Bernard Haitink conducted three Ring Cycles in the second Gotz Friedrich production.

Garsington Opera had started in 1989 to complaints from the neighbours, who in 1996 had won compensation. When this was later overturned on appeal, they resorted to civil disobedience and made much noise during performances. In Italy, La Fenice burned down. 1996 just wasn't a good year for running an opera house.

Glyndebourne on the other hand had just been rebuilt and had re-opened in 1994 with the new house enabling the company to widen the repertoire. In 1995 they gave the first UK staging of Rossini's Ermione

John Adams' Nixon in China (premiered 1987) would not reach London until 2000 and Philip Glass's Marriage of Zones 3, 4 and 5 (premiered by ENO in 1997) was definitely not the way forward. But all was not dull in contemporary opera, Harrison Birtwistle's The Second Mrs Kong had been premiered by Glyndebourne in 1994 and they would premiere Jonathan Dove's Flight in 1998. The Royal Opera premiered Alexander Goehr's Arianna and Almeida Opera had premiered Thomas Ades' Powder her Face in 1995.

I've probably forgotten all sorts of things, but reading through this list makes you realise quite how tricky it is to predict what will be happening in the opera world in 2030!

A correspondent has pointed out that Opera Holland Park did its inaugural production in 1996, Un Ballo in Maschera directed by Anthony Besch)

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