Thursday 17 April 2008

ENO New Season

English National Opera have announced their new (2008/09) season with a total of 15 different production, 10 of them new to ENO. The season is a curious mixture of conservatism and daring.

Regarding repertoire, they include 2 contemporary operas but stick to well tried ones - Adams's Doctor Atomic and Saariaho's Amour de Loin. Though it will be good to see how Penny Woolcock (who directed the film of Death of Klinghofer) responds to Doctor Atomic as its libretto was very much the construction of its first directer, Peter Sellers. It will be the first major staging of Saariaho's popular work in London, though it has appeared in semi-staged concert at the Barbican. No details of the creative team or performers of the Saariaho have been released.

Katie Mitchell will also be creating a new piece of music theatre at the Young Vic based on Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, which might or might not come in to the contemporary category - we'll have to wait and see to be certain.

Regarding earlier repertoire, they are doing new productions of Handel's Partenope (ENO's first ever) and RVW's Riders to the Sea (ENO's first since 1953). But The remainder of the 18th/19th/early 20th century repertoire traverses familiar ground - Cav and Pag, Aida, Boris Goudonov, Magic Flute, La Boheme, Jenufa,Peter Grimes,Cosi fan tutte and Madam Butterfly. Though all these operas are well worth doing, it is a shame that they have not included at least something off the beaten track (Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, some Marschner or a rarer Verdi).

Another puzzling thing is that the La Boheme and Peter Grimes are both being done in new productions. Peter Grimes was last performed at the Coliseum in 1999 in the 1991 Tim Albery production. My memories of this are very positive and whilst David Alden's take on the opera will be fascinating, couldn't they have simply revived Tim Albery's production. Similarly Jonathan Miller is doing a new La Boheme (set in Paris in the 1930's), thus ditching Steven Pimlott's rather striking 1993 production. There might be good reasons for this but the management seem to be rather content to cycle round the same small group of operas, constantly re-inventing their attitudes to them.

The new production of Cav and Pag is welcome because it last appeared at the ENO in 1986 in a rather underwhelming production. It will be interesting to see what Richard Jones makes of it.

Anthony Minghella was meant to be doing Eugene Onegin but that has obviously been cancelled. Instead they are reviving his Madam Butterfly. The new Cosi van Tutte will be directed by the Iranian film director abbas Kiarostami.

Regarding casting, there is a good mixture of interesting young people and old stalwarts. Cav and Pag have a fine set of relatively young singers including Peter Auty and Mary Plazas. Partenope has Christian Curnyn as its musical director and starts Rosemary Joshua, John Mark Ainsley, Patricia Bardon and Iestyn Davies, with Christine Rice in the castrato role of Arsaces. Incidentally Christopher Alden's production is said to be inspired by Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando (why one wonders!).

Tim Albery's new Boris Godunov, in the 7 scene version, stars Peter Rose as Boris. Jonathan Veira makes one of a number of appearances this season as Varlaam.

RVW's Riders to the Sea has Patricia Bardon as Maurya. The opera will be directed by actress Fiona Shaw and will be presented with a new prologue. The opera will be performed on its own rather than as part of a triple bill, an interesting and daring idea.

La Boheme has a number of names that are new to me, but Alfie Boe continues his London stage appearances with a welcome return to Rudolfo.Doctor Atomic will have Gerald Finley reprising his rolde as Dr. Oppenheimer. Susan Bickley returns as Dido in Katie Mitchell's extravaganza at the Young Vic.

David Alden's Peter Grimes has a strong cast of returning singer; Amanda Roocroft will be Ellen Orford, with Gerald Finley as Balstrode, Stuart Skelton as Grimes, Della Jones as Auntie (her first appearance here since 1998) and Felicity Palmer as Mrs. Sedley. Interestingly both Skelton and Roocroft worked with David Alden on the recent Jenufa.

Susan Gritton and Fiona Murphy will be the sisters in Cosi van tutte.

In the revivals, Judith Howarth is Cio Cio San, Amanda Roocroft returns as Jenufa with Robert Brubaker as Laca and Tom Randle as Steva, Robert Lloyd sings Sarastro.

Edward Gardner is conducting 3 new productions and 1 revival (Madam Butterfly). The 7 other conductors are all young and talented, interesting names but the roster lacks a sprinkling of major names from the older generation - surely someone like Mark Elder could have been tempted back.
All in all an interesting season, but one which raises many questions.

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