Wednesday 2 May 2018

Positive moves - ENO announces its 2018/19 season

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English National Opera's 2018/19 season is its first under the direct control of Daniel Kramer, though opera planning being what it is we can imagine some aspects were in the planning stage when he arrived. There are nine main stage productions between September 2018 and April 2019, with an itinerant Summer 2019 in venues away from the Coliseum. The total number of performances is up, and we are promised 10 main stage productions next year, audiences numbers are up and there are heartening increases in young people (those under 44 increased by 13%) and black or minority ethnic (up to 10% from 4%)

New productions include Richard Strauss' Salome, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, Britten's War Requiem, Lehar's The Merry Widow, and Iain Bell's Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel, with revivals of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Puccini's La Boheme,Philip Glass' Akhnaten and Mozart's The Magic Flute. Summer 2019 will see a version of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in collaboration with Unicorn Theatre, and Britten's Noyes Fluddes in collaboration with the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

It is a season which is not without interest, and whilst you can feel Daniel Kramer working within economic limitations there is still a balance between the popular and the more esoteric. Daniel Kramer has said from the beginning that he is interested in doing more operetta, which in the old, old days was a big Sadlers Wells/ENO staple, but operetta is difficult to get right at the Coliseum. So to find The Merry Widow back on the slate is unsurprising, but Porgy and Bess is an imaginative choice, not strictly operetta but still with spoken dialogue and with strong links to musical theatre.

One big plus in the season is the casting, which has a much firmer basis in UK and UK trained singers. Not only does the Iain Bell premiere bring back many distinguished artists from the company's past but artists like Emma Bell, Sarah Tynan, Lucy Crowe, Susan Bickley, Roderick Williams, David Butt Philip, Natalya Romaniw, Nicholas Lester, David Soar, Robert Murray, Rupert Charlesworth are featured, not to mention the return of Latonia Moore, Claudia Boyle and Gweneth-Ann Rand, plus artists such as James Cleverton, Nadine Benjamin, Stuart Jackson and Rowan Pierce.

Regarding conductors, Martyn Brabbins features strongly with three productions (Salome, War Requiem and Jack the Ripper) but we also have John Wilson, Stuart Stratford, Alexander Joel, Valentina Peleggi, Karen Kamensek, Kristiina Poska, Ben Gernon. Whilst three female conductors in nine productions ( Alexander Joel & Valentina Peleggi are sharing La Boheme, whilst Peleggi returns for the Purcell in Summer 2019) is not great, it is a still a step in the right direction.

Salome will be directed by the Australian theatre director Adena Jacobs and it will be interesting to see what take a gay woman has on this most challenging of operas, and we are promised something radical and modern. Jacobs previous operatic work has included a new opera by Damien Ricketson. The cast features the Scottish mezzo-soprano Allison Cooke, with Susan Bickley as Herodias (definitely a performance I look forward too).

Porgy and Bess will be directed by James Robinson, artistic director of Opera Theatre St. Louis, with the conductor John Wilson making his UK debut. The title roles are played by Nicole Cabell and Eric Greene, with a strong supporting cast including Latonia Moore, Gweneth-Ann Rand, Nadine Benjamin, Frederick Ballentine and Njabula Madlala.

Britten's War Requiem will be staged by Daniel Kramer with designs by the artist Wolfgang Tillmans and three outstanding soloists, Emma Bell, David Butt Philip and Roderick Williams. The ENO Chorus and Orchestra has been outstanding recently both on stage and on the concert platform, so this should be quite an event.

Those with long-ish memories will remember ENO's previous The Merry Widow when veteran director John Copley was brought on board at the last minute and create a very traditional (and enjoyable) production. The new production from associate director of the Old Vic, Max Webster whose past opera credits include Britten's Owen Wingrave for British Youth Opera [see my review], will presumably have a more modern take. The cast is, however, outstanding with Sarah Tynan in the title role, distinguished American baritone Nathan Gunn as Danilo and a supporting cast including Andrew Shore, Robert Murray, Rhian Lois, and Nicholas Lester. Estonian conductor Kristiina Poska [whom we heard at the Estonian Music Days last year, see my review] makes her ENO debut.

Iain Bell's Jack the Ripper features a striking cast of singers who have had a long association with the company, Dame Josephine Barstow, Susan Bullock, Lesley Garett, Marie McLaughlin, Janis Kelley, Alan Opie and Robert Hayward, and are joined by Claudia Boyle, Nicky Spence and James Cleverton. Daniel Kramer directs and Martyn Brabbins conducts. The librettist is Emma Jenkins who co-wrote the libretto to Bell's opera In Parenthesis [see my review].

David Alden's dark take on Lucia di Lammermoor returns with Sarah Tynan in the title role and Stuart Stratford conducting, it will be interesting to see what a different cast brings to this very specific production. Jonathan Miller's production of La Boheme is back with a very striking cast, Natalya Romaniw sings Mimi (her ENO debut) with Nadine Benjamin as Musetta, Nicholas Lester as Marcello and American tenor Jonathan Tetelman making his ENO debut. Phelim McDermott's popular re-working of Philip Glass' Akhnahten sess Anthony Roth Costanzo back in the title role with a strong supporting cast.  Phelim McDermot's charming production of Mozart's The Magic Flute is also back with Lucy Crowe, Rupert Charlesworth, Thomas Oliemans, Brindley Sherratt, Jonathan Lemalu and Rowan Pierce.

Full details from the ENO website.

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