Friday 17 March 2006

ENO's new Season

ENO have announced their plans for the 2006/07 season. There has been much muttering about how unready the company was and how the previous regime had not made sufficient plans. I'm not sure how much of this is really true; what probably matters more is that Berry and Tomasi have had to come up with a season which will attract ENO's traditional audience back and also balance the books.

This means that the season has a somewhat lighter feel, they are bringing back On the Town and doing a new production of Kismet. Additionally, there's a new production of The Gondoliers.

The other aspect of the season which is designed to satisfy their traditional punters is the return of a number of ENO favourites from the past; like the present season casting seems rather stronger than of late and sees the welcome return of some favourites.

Emma Bell is doing her first La Traviata with Rhys Meirion, a former company principal, as Alfredo. Its a new production, by Conal Morrison from Dublin's Abbey Theatre and for some reason, re-sets the opera in 19th century Dublin? Rather a curious idea, but worth suffering just to hear/see Bell's Violetta.

Another strong return is Amanda Roocroft singing the title role in a new production of Jenufa. The production was first seen in 2004 at Houston Grand Opera. This is Roocroft's first ENO role since singing Ginevra in Ariodante in 1993, an appalling gap. In what is probably something of a coup, Kostelnicka is being sung by Catherine Malfitano. With Paul Charles Clarke making his ENO stage debut (something he should have surely done years ago).

The new production of Marriage of Figaro has 2 distinct casts which highlight current talent including Lisa Milne (Countess), Susan Gritton (Countess), Jonathan Lemalu (Figaro), Sarah Tynan (Susanna) Jonathan Veira (Dr. Bartolo), plus stalwarts such as Diana Montague , Stuart Kale, Yvonne Howard. The production is by Olivia Fuchs, which means it should be rather interesting; perhaps interesting enough for me to go and see it (there again perhaps not).
The new Gondoliers has more returning old faces; the Duchess of Plaza Toro is Anne Murray and Don Alhambra is DOnald Maxwell. The delectable Sarah Tynan re-appears as Gianetta, Martin Duncan produces; definitely one for the diary.

Handel's Agrippina is being done in the production originally seen in Brussels, directed by David McVicar. Agrippina is often seen as one of Handel's lighter, more satirical operas and this is used as an excuse for doing rather jokey productions. Given McVicar's track record (a mixed Alcina at ENO and the terrible Bollywood Julius Caesar for Glyndebourne), I won't hold my breath about the production. But the casting is just top notch; Sarah Connolly as Agrippina, Christine Rice as Nero, Rebecca Evans as Poppea (one of Handel's sex-kitten roles) plus Stephen Wallace and Lawrence Zazzo.

Mary Plazas returns in a revival of Stephen Pimlott's 1993 La Boheme. A more unconventional choice is Philip Glass's Satyagraha directed by first time opera director Phelim McDermott (founders of the theatre company Improbable, responsible for Shock Headed Peter). There is also a new production of Death in Venice directed by Deborah Warner, conducted by Kwame Ryan and with Ian Bostridge in the main role. This is going to be one of the hot tickets of the season, I just hope Bostridge has the stamina to actually do the performances.

Finally a revival of La Clemenza di Tito with Alice Coote making her role debut as Sesto. Emma Bell and Paul Nilon return to the production and its being conducted by ENO's new musical director Edward Gardner.

The company have already announce that they are dropping Sean Doran's designation of Britten as house composer, but have promised more Britten operas. It remains to be seen whether they will extend their committment to English opera. This season includes G&S and Handel but to make a true committment we need a further foray into more distant waters. With all the push to renew core repertoire, I have a horrible feeling that any expectations of opera by Delius, Rutland Boughton or Ethel Smyth are going to be disappointed.

The full season preview is on the ENO site here.

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