Thursday, 4 April 2019

Re-invigorated: English National Opera's striking 2019/20 season

ENO 2019/20 season
English National Opera has announced its new season, 2019/20, with nine production between October 2019 and April 2020 (Summer 2020 remains to be announced) at the London Coliseum. Of these seven are new productions and three are interesting revivals. And for once you sense the company is re-invigorated and many of the new productions explore new repertoire rather than simply replacing pre-existing productions. Casting is admirably wide, with a mix of young artists and returning distinguished older guests, plus one or two singers who make a welcome appearance after a period of unwarranted neglect.

The season opens with a quartet of operas based on the Orpheus myth, and taking a leaf from other opera companies, ENO is using that same basic set (designed by Lizzie Clachan) with a different director for each opera. Emma Rice directs Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld conducted by Sian Edwards and Valentina Peleggi, so expect a complete riot. The cast includes Ed Lyon, Claudia Boyle, Alan Oke, and Keel Watson with Williard White and Robert Hayward sharing the role of Jupiter. Gluck's Orpheus and Euridice directed by Wayne McGregor and conducted by Harry Bicket, sees the welcome return of Sarah Connolly to the Coliseum in the title role with Sarah Tynan and Soraya Mafi. Choreographer Wayne McGregor will be bringing a team of his own dancers, and the version used will be the Berlioz one. Philip Glass' Orphee will be directed by Netia Jones and conducted by Geoffrey Paterson with a cast including Nicholas Lester, Sarah Tynan, Jennifer France, Nicky Spence, Anthony Gregory and Clive Bayley. The final Orpheus is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated with the return to the stage after 30 years of Harrison Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus which will be directed by Daniel Kramer and conducted by Martyn Brabbins, with Peter Hoare as Orpheus the man, Mara Fonatanals-Simmons as Euridice the woman (her ENO debut), plus Susan Bickley, James Claverton, Claron McFadden and Robert Hayward.

Verdi's Luisa Miller is certainly not common repertoire, and I have no idea when ENO last performed the opera. It is the first of two productions this season being done with Oper Wuppertal. Directed by Barbora Horakova Joly [who directed Verdi's Un giorno di Regno in Heidenheim in 2017, see my review, and she received the Best Newcomer award at the 2018 Opera Awards]. Luisa Miller is a tricky opera to bring off, but ENO has assembled a strong cast with Elizabeth Llewellyn as Luisa, Olafur Sigurdarson as Miller, and James Creswell as Count Walter, with Christine Rice as Federica, Solomon Howard as Wurm and Nadine Benjamin as Laura; Alexander Joel conducts.

The new production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro is the second co-production of the season with Oper Wuppertal. It is directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins [who directed Thomas Ades' Powder her Face for ENO at Ambika P3, see Hilary's review], with strong young cast including Bozidar Smilhanic as Figaro, Louise Alder as Susanna (her ENO debut), Jonathan McCullough as the Count, Sophie Bevan as the Countess (her role debut) and Hanna Hipp as Cherubino, plus Susan Bickley and Andrew Shore. So expect a lively and modern production. Conductor Kevin John Edusel is making his ENO debut.

The final new production sees ENO returning to an opera that they made great waves with in the 1980s. David Pountney's ENO production of Dvorak's Rusalka was rightly celebrated, but sufficient time has passed for the company to  present the piece in a different approach. The director will be the German director Tatjana Gurbaca, and the conductor is Antony Hermus, both are making their ENO debuts. Corinne Winters is Rusalka, with David Butt Philip as the Prince, David Soar as the Water Sprite, Claire Rutter as the Foreign Princess and Katie Coventry as the Kitchen boy. So a cast full of good things.

Whilst it could be argued that ENO has revived Jonathan Miller's production of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado enough, a cast which includes John Tomlinson as the Mikado, along with Richard Suart, Andrew Shore, Yvonne Howard, Egan-Llyr Thomas, Soraya Mafi and Ben McAteer, has plenty of attractions. The same can be said for the revival of Anthony Minghella's production of Puccini's La Boheme, where we get to hear Natalya Romaniw in the title role, with Dmitri Pittas and Adam Smith as Pinkerton, and Roderick Williams and George von Bergen as Sharpless. Justina Gringyte returns to the title role of Bizet's Carmen in Calxito Bieito's interesting production, with Sean Pannikar and David Butt Philip sharing the role of Don Jose, plus Ashley Riches and Nardus Willliams.

There are obvious lacunae in the season, no Wagner and no Richard Strauss, but the selection of operas sees the company continuing to explore new areas and having a Gluck on the main stage again is very welcome, whilst Daniel Kramer is continuing his interesting policy of including new stagings of operettas. Staging Birtwistle's opera for his 85th birthday is a huge undertaking and a welcome one, given that the piece has not been staged in the UK since ENO did it in the 1980s.  Even the more routine revivals have a level of interest in the casting.

Interestingly of the seven new productions, four are directed by women though there are only two women conductors in the season. And a quick glance at the casting does suggest that ENO is following through in its determination to cast more BAME singers.

Full details from the ENO website.

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