Monday 5 May 2014

ENO new season - 2014/15

ENO New Season
English National Opera's new season is a cunning mixture of exploration and commercialisation. Having finished 2013/14 in financially buoyant mood thanks to a combination of box office sales, co-production partnerships and a judicious one-off donation, their plans released for 2014/15 are clearly aimed at altering the financial base of the company. As has been the case in John Bury's previous seasons, novelty is aimed purely at the 21st century works with other new productions being firmly in the Wagner, Puccini, Tchaikovsky canon. A judicious combination of casting and directors should make individual productions attractive. Peter Sellars work has been patchy of late, and his Indian Queen a bit controversial, but he should prove an interesting breath of fresh air. The selection of cast, directors and conductors seems a little more considered than of late, two female conductors, a strong clutch of British directors and a judicious mix of foreign debutants in amongst a strong home team. The more commercial aspects (see below) offer some interesting possibilities for future developments.

First the new productions.

  • Verdi's Otello with Stuart Skelton, Leah Crocetto (lovely to hear her in the UK again, she was the USA contestant for the BBC Singer of the World in 2011), and New Zealand baritone Brian Mulligan, directed by David Alden, conducted by Edward Gardner - a fine cast and an intriguing combination of work, performer and director. Personally I cannot wait to hear the New Zealand tenor  in the title role.
  • Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West with Susan Bullock, American bass-baritone Craig Colclough and Peter Auty, directed by Peter Jones and conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson. It will be interesting to see what Jones does with it, especially with his penchant for setting things in the 1950's.
  • John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary in the first of two Peter Sellers production in the season. Conducted by Joana Carneiro (the second of the two female conductors in the season), with Patricia Bardon as Mary Magdalene.
  • Joanna Lee's The Way Back Home a world premiere directed by Katie Mitchell; an opera for children and families to be performed at the Old Vic.
  • Richard Jones's fine production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger comes over from Cardiff, with Iain Patterson in the title role, the American soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer as Eva, Andrew Shore as Becknesser, Gwyn Hughes Davies as Walter and conducted by Edward Gardner.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance gets a new production directed by film director Mike Leigh, the most operatically untested of the season's directors and perhaps the most intriguing combination. Leigh of course directed the film Topsy Turvey about Gilbert and Sullivan which included scenes from performances of The Mikado. The conductor is David Parry.
  • Peter Sellers'  production of Purcell's Indian Queen has already appeared elsewhere (it is a co-production with Perm Opera and Madrid). Sellars stitches together the music of Purcell's semi-opera together with a new text and a number of the composer's anthems to tell the story of the Europeans and the Mayans in the New World. Performers include Julia Bullock (who created one of the roles in the piece) and Lucy Crowe, Lawrence Cummings conducts.
  • Monteverdi's Orfeo is being produced at the Bristol Old Vic, directed by Tom Morris (the theatre's artistic director),a welcome example of the company getting out of London. (I'm old enough to have experience first-hand ENO touring their entire Ring Cycle).
  • Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades will feature Felicity Palmer as the Old Countess, directed by David Alden and conducted by Edward Gardner, his final production as music director.
  • Tansy Lee's 9/11 inspired new opera Between Worlds is produced at the Barbican, directed by Deborah Warner
Revivals include Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro conducted by Jaime Martin with with strong young cast (David Stout, Mary Bevan, Benedict Nelson, Sara-Jane Brandon, Samatha Price). This gives a welcome chance for some judicious re-working in a promising production. Jonathan Miller's La Boheme returns in the capable hands of conductor Gianluca Marciano, with another fine young cast including Angel Blue as Mimi and David Butt Philip as Rodolfo. In Peter Konwitschny's La Traviata Ben Johnson and Anthony Michaels-Moore reprise their roles with Elizabeth Zharoff as Violetta. Though a wonderfully dramatic version of the tale, it is still known in our house as the Morecambe and Wise production owing to the plethora of heads popping through rich red stage curtains. And finally Handel's Xerxes, now 30 but still going strong and it has Alice Coote in the title role and Rhian Lois as Atalanta. (Does anyone know what happened to the Alden Ariodante, that was a very fine production and deserves an outing if it still exists).

Young Artists: The ten ENO Harewood Young Artists take 18 named roles across the season. The cast of Monteverdi's Orfeo in Bristol is entirely made up of these young artists. 27 principal roles will be played by past of present members of ENO vocal schemes and 85 of the singers will be British or British trained. (though UK conservatories train so many promising foreign students that it is not quite the support for UK talent this appears). And whilst ENO in its present form is very far from the coherent company with a roster of principals that we would like it to be, in this current economic climate perhaps this sort of gradual build is the best we can hope for and it certain gives good support and opportunities to a group of young singers.

House Composers: The company is also developing its house composers scheme with four composer Richard Causton, Alistair Putt, Edmund Finnis and Helen Grime being supported to produce a piece of new writing which will be workshopped and performed.

 Not quite Coli 24/7: The more commercial aspects announce are no less exciting. ENO is planning an overhaul of the Coliseum public spaces and are talking to partners to re-work the restaurant and bar areas and install a foyer cofee shop as part of moves to open up the building during the day. A profoundly sensible move considering the amount of coffee drunk by ENO punters waiting for the doors to open.

Commercial Theatre: And they are aiming to take greater control of the commercially hired part of the season, we are promised closer curation of the content and they are entering into an agreement with Michael Grade and Michael Linnet to produce musicals. A couple of decent hits here and a West End transfer could do wonders for the company's finances.

Production Centre: In perhaps more seemingly mundane but no less important vein, ENO is creating a new production centre to bring together the company's rehearsal, workshop, wardrobe, transport and administration functions under one purpose built roof, rather than spread out in rented facilities.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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