Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Intelligent planning: ENO's 2017/18 season

Christopher Ainslie, Iestyn Davies - Handel's Rodelinda at ENO in 2014 (photo Clive Barda)
Christopher Ainslie, Iestyn Davies
Handel's Rodelinda at ENO in 2014 (photo Clive Barda)
What is fascinating about English National Opera's recently announced plans for the 2017/18 season is what isn't there as much as what is. There are nine main stage productions at the London Coliseum from September 2017 to April 2018, with plans for further collaborations away from the London Coliseum for Summer 2018. No only are there no productions by either of the Alden brothers, but the revival of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream is reverting to the much travelled Robert Carsen production rather than Christopher Alden's dystopic public school production from 2011 (see my review). Also not returning is Peter Konwtischny's 2013 production of La Traviata (see my review), a terrific yet radical re-imagining of the opera which seemed to fail to catch audience attention. Instead Daniel Kramer is giving us his own new production. Given the timescale of opera planning, I imagine that there is still a lot of John Berry in the mix, 

The casting is similarly hopeful, previous seasons' dependence on young American singers (particularly sopranos) is gone and we have returned to an intelligent mix of guests such as the much anticipated Latonia Moore as Aida, and British singers, also mixing young artists with experienced singers.

ENO's Music Director, Martyn Brabbins, conducts two operas, the premiere of Nico Muhly's Marnie and the revival of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.

There are in fact four new productions in the season,
Phelim McDermott directs Verdi's Aida with a very strong cast, Latonia Moore and Morenike Fadayomi sharing the title role, Gwyn Hughes Jones as Radames, and Michelle DeYoung and Dana Beth Miller as Amneris, conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson (who impressed in her ENO debut in The Girl of the Golden West, see my review) and Christian Baldini. It will be exciting to hear Latonia Moore in the title role, yet Aida is a notoriously difficult opera to bring off and it will be interesting to see whether McDermott can work his particular magic.

American director Michael Mayer makes his UK debut directing Nico Muhly's new opera Marnie based on Winston Graham's novel (and inspired by the screenplay to the Hitchcock film); a co-production with the Met in New York. The cast includes American mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke in the title role, Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch and soprano Lesley Garrett, conducted by Martyn Brabbins.  In complete contrast Cal McCrystal (best known for his West-End production One Man, Two Guvnors makes his ENO debut directing a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe. It is great to see the company continuing the G&S theme, though the London Coliseum  is notoriously difficult space and it will be interesting to see of McCrystal's highly physical approach works. A fine cast includes ENO Harewood Artist Samantha Price, with Ellie Laugharne, Marcus Farnsworth, Ben Johnson, Barnaby Rea, Yvonne Howard and Andrew Shore, conducted by Timothy Henty.

The final new production will very much be seen as a test of Daniel Kramer's ambitions for the company. In the last 25 years ENO has had three goes at finding a successful replacement for its long-running Harewood era production of Verdi's La Traviata (a company staple in the old days) and so far has failed. One of the things the company's roster of productions lacks is a good core of bankable revivals with which to bolster the more adventurous programming, so let us hope Kramer manages to square this particular circle. Violetta is being sung by Irish soprano Claudia Boyle, with South African tenor Lukhanyo Moyake making his UK debut as Alfredo Germont and Alan Opie as Giorgio Germont, with Leo McFall and Toby Purser conducting.

There is an interesting mix of revivals. Jonathan Miller's production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville is made interesting by Sarah Tynan as Rosina and Alan Opie making his role debut as Dr Bartolo, plus Morgan Pearse and Eleazar Rodriguez, conducted by Hilary Griffiths. Despite my reservations about it (see my review) it is good to see Richard Jones production of Handel's Rodelinda returning with Rebecca Evans and Susan Bickley returning to their roles, and joined by Tim Mead and Robert Murray, conducted by Christian Curnyn.

Also returning is Phelim McDermott's striking production of Philip Glass's Satygraha, conducted by Karen Kamensek with Toby Spence as Gandhi. Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, in Robert Carsen's production (the green bed one), features Christopher Ainslie, Soraya Mafi, David Webb, Clare Presland, Matthew Durkan , Eleanor Dennis and Joshua Bloom, with Alexander Soddy conducting. The final revival on the main stage is Fiona Shawe's production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro with a strong cast including Lucy Crowe as the Countess, Rhian Lois as Susanna, Ashley Riches as the Count, Thomas Oliemans as Figaro and Katie Coventry as Cherubino.

Outside the London Coliseum there are interesting moves. There is a planned production of Britten's The Turn of the Screw at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in June 2018, directed by Timothy Sheader (artistic director of the theatre) and conducted by Toby Purser (ENO Mackerras Fellow). There is a collaboration with the Gate Theatre which will be announced later this year, and the ENO Orchestra will be playing for some productions at Grange Park Opera (at West Horsely Place) from June 2018. Amongst the visitors to the London Coliseum in 2018 will be Opera North, bringing its successful production of Cole Porter's Kiss me Kate. There will also be another semi-staged musical in June 2018.

There is quite a lot that is missing from the season, there is no Strauss or Wagner, and two of the new productions are Verdi. Yet the shape the season shows an intelligent willingness to grapple with the company's problems and balance popular core productions with the need for innovation. Perhaps key to this will be how successful the two new Verdi productions are at drawing in ENO's core audiences, but also the configuration of the collaborations for Summer 2018 play an important role.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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