Thursday 19 May 2011

ENO new season

ENO have announced their 2011/12 season and it is a mixture of delights and disappointments.

Headline news is that Tom Morris will be directing the first UK staging of John Adams The Death of Klinghoffer, thus filling an important and significant gap in UK opera life. Three other contemporary operas will be receiving their premieres and here lies the mixture of delight and an element of disappointment. Benedict Andrews makes a welcome return after his fine Return of Ulysses and will direct Detlev Glanert's Caligula. And Wolfgang Rihm's Jakob Lenz will be directed by Sam Brown at the new Hampstead Theatre. The final contemporary premiere is part of the 2012 Olympic celebration; Rufus Norris will direct Damon Albarn's Doctor Dee.

Now each of the above operas is interesting and in some ways important, it will be good to hear them. But somewhere along the line we seem to have lost the commitment to contemporary British opera. Damon Albarn is perfectly entitled to write an opera and it may well be a fine work, but for ENO's season to select a piece by someone from the pop world and ignore music by most of the toilers at the British operatic coal face seems vastly unfair.

There is one other significant premiere, a 20th century one this time. Miecyslaw Weinberg's The Passenger which makes a welcome appearance in David Poutney's Bregenz production.

The other new productions are, with one exception, renewals of the core repertoire. Fiona Shaw directs The Marriage of Figaro, hurrah! Deborah Warner is in charge of Eugene Onegin, an opera which ENO seems to have been particularly cavalier with new productions. But whose to complain when the cast consists of Amanda Echalaz, Toby Spence and Audun Iversen (who recently was boring Albert in Covent Garden's revival of Werther -I must add that Albert is supposed to be boring).

Richard Jones is having a go at The Tales of Hoffman, something of a grave-yard for directors as it is surprisingly difficult to get right. Jones has a strong cast, Barry Banks, Gerogia Jarman (as the heroines), Clive Bayley (as the villains), Christine Rice as Muse/Nikolauss and Simon Butteriss as the character tenor. There is no word on the ENO web-site about what editions they are using. ENO have a tradition of sticking to the spoken dialogue version and using innovative and up to date musical editions, so here's hoping. But Hoffman is an opera which needs editing, you can't just perform everything the composer wrote as he died before it was finished. The list is completed with David Alden doing Billy Budd and Jonathan Kent The Flying Dutchman. The last is perhaps the most interesting, Rameau's Castor et Pollux directed by Barry Kosky. This represents a rare London's serious staging of a Rameau opera.

There are just 4 revivals, Tosca, Der Rosenkavalier, The Elixir of Love and Madam Butterfly. Der Rosenkavalier is notable for Amanda Roocroft's first Marschallin, something to be certainly looked forward too. I think I would have liked a few more revivals, giving directors the chance to re-work productions. Surely a British dramatic soprano could have been found to take on Turandot? And how about an account of Lucia di Lammermoor which uses a voice as dramatic as Sutherland's rather than Anna Christy's accurate but rather little girl coloratura?

This is in many ways an ambitious season, but if any discernible direction can be detected it seems to represent ENO moving firmly towards a more European position, with it looking less and less like the English National opera. The management seem to be worryingly wedded to the idea of constantly renewing the core repertoire. Yes, The Passenger is a worthy addition but they had a perfectly serviceable Eugene Onegin in Julia Hollander's production so couldn't we have had one of Tchaikovsky's lesser know operas. Having had Lucrezia Borgia this season, then Italian bel canto is back to being restricted to Donizetti comedies. Isn't it about time someone offered Claire Rutter a Norma in a big house, to complement her successful assumption of the role at Grange Park. And in a house responsible for so much lively and innovative staging, isn't it about time that Meyerbeer's sacred monster's were addressed. Covent Garden tried to do it by importing John Dew's production of Les Huguenots in the '90s, with conspicuous lack of success, but someone needs to try again.

But for me, the biggest lack is British opera. Not dim Victoriana and English cow-pat. I'd love to see RVW's The Pilgrim's Progress but realise it is not sufficiently sexy. But how about all those post war operas which have had one outing and never been seen since. Instead of pursuing contemporary German opera, surely ENO would be better employed looking at opera's like Nicholas Maw's The Rising of the Moon, or anything by Maxwell Davies (Taverner, Therese). There are operas by Alexander Goehr which have still not had a UK performance.

So there is much to look forward to, and it is a relief that the roster of directors seems to have settled down to those with more of a track record in the genre.


  1. I have vivid memories of R R Bennett's Victory and the Mines of Sulphur, and Malcom Williamson's The Violins of St Jacques, which actually had a couple of revivals at the Coliseum in the late 60s.
    Not sure I would want to sit through Therese again though....

  2. The Mines of Sulphur was successfully revived at Glimmerglass a couple of years ago and I'd love to see a performance of The Violins of St. Jacques at the Coliseum

  3. Goehr's Arden Must Die would be very close to top of my list. And surely ENO ought to revive The Mask of Orpheus... Still, at least it looks like a much more interesting programme than that from Covent Garden (THREE runs for that neglected masterpiece, La traviata...)

  4. I must confess that I'd rather like to see Goehr's Behold the Sun. I'm not sure its ever been done in the UK.

    Regarding Covent Garden, there are things there that tempt me. Les Troyens and Il Trittico notably. Regarding La Traviata, I don't plan to see any, but I can see the attractions of having opportunities to hear Marina Poplavskaya and Anna Netrebko in the title role, Vittorio Grigolo as Alfredo and Simon Keenlyside as Germont.


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