Thursday 13 May 2021

Four new productions, three revivals and some interesting debuts: English National Opera's brave new 2021/22 season

English National Opera - 2021/22 season - The Valkyrie

English National Opera has announced its 2021/22 season and a brave return to normality. There are four new productions and three revivals, with Richard Jones' new production of Wagner's The Valkyrie (which should have debut this Spring) still intact and now debuting in November. Cal McCrystal, who directed Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe in 2018 [see my review], is returning for HMS Pinafore, Jamie Manton directs Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen and Annilese Miskimmon, directing her first ENO production, directs a new production of Paul Ruders' The Handmaid's Tale

Coming back are Phelim McDermott’s production of Philip Glass' Satygraha, Jonathan Miller's production of Puccini's La Boheme, and Phelim McDermott’s production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. The result is a season which is clearly aiming to appeal to multiple types of audiences, and seems to successfully minimise The Ring effect, whereby companies have to focus so many resources on staging Wagner's operas that the rest of the season suffers. Though it is to be noted that of the seven operas in the season, only two are 19th century with no Verdi at all.

Casting places a welcome emphasis on British, British-based or British-trained along with an interesting sprinkling of artists from around the world. During the season, 15 roles will be taken by current Harewood Artists, with seven being taken by former Harewood Artists, and the ENO Mackerras Fellowship for emerging conductors continues into the new season and is currently held by fellow Olivia Clarke. Free tickets will now be available for under 21s for all opera performances, with an allocation on every level of the theatre, and there are extensions to other ticket schemes.

The Chorus and Orchestra Fellowships and Director Observership programme, which launched in 2019, will continue to run into the new season. A five string fellows and four choristers from an ethnically diverse background will join the ENO Orchestra and Chorus respectively for the 2021/22 season, while the ENO’s paid Director Observership programme offers the opportunity for four emerging directors from an ethnically diverse background to work alongside world-renowned opera directors, observing the entire process of directing an opera from start to finish. 

As in previous years, the announcement only covers the main stage from October to April, the remainder of the seasons performances at venues other than the London Coliseum is yet to be announced.

The season begins with Satygraha (October 2021), conducted by Carolyn Kuan, with a cast including Sean Panikkar, James Cleverton, Sarah Pring, Ross Ramgobin, and Gabriella Cassidy makes her official ENO debut having previously covered a number of roles with the company. Then comes Cal McCrystal's new production of HMS Pinafore (October-December 2021), the opera's first time at ENO. McCrystal's production of Iolanthe was one of the most-attended shows in the company's history. Chris Hopkins conducts with actor and comedian Les Dennis as Sir Joseph, plus John Savournin, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Henry Waddington, Marcus Farnsworth and Hilary Summers. 

Richard Jones' production of The Valkyrie (November/December 2021) is the first in a planned Ring Cycle. This is Jones' third production of the opera (previously at Scottish Opera and at Covent Garden), and this new cycle is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera. Martyn Brabbins conducts (with Anthony Negus taking one performance) and a strong and intriguing cast features Nicky Spence and Emma Bell making their role debuts as Siegmund and Siegfried, with Matthew Rose as Wotan (another role debut), Susan Bickley as Fricka, Brindley Sherratt as Hunding and it is nice to see a British dramatic soprano, Rachel Nicholls, being featured as Brunnhilde.

Jonathan Miller's production of Puccini's La Boheme, set in Paris in the 1930s, has become something of a staple at the Coliseum. This revival will be conducted by Ben Glassberg (principal conductor of the Glyndebourne Tour and who conducted the 2019 production of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel in Regent's Park) with Sinéad Campell-Wallace (making her ENO debut) and Nadine Benjamin as Mimi (Benjamin sang Musetta in the last revival of the production), plus David Junghoon Kim as Rodolfo (a role a sang in ENO's Drive-In production last year), Charles Rice as Marcello, Louise Alder as Musetta (Alder sang Susanna in the 2020 production of Le nozze di Figaro], and William Thomas as Colline (also a veteran of the Drive-In production). 

Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen will be returning to the London Coliseum (February/March 2022) for the first time since 2001 (the last revival of the David Pountney production). It is Jamie Manton's first main-stage production, having previously direct smaller-scale productions for the company including Britten's Paul Bunyan at Wilton's Music Hall and Alexandra Palace Theatre. Martyn Brabbins conducts, Sally Matthews will be the Vixen, returning to the Coliseum for the first time since 2005, and be joined by South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza, making her ENO debut, as the Fox, with Lester Lynch as the Forester and a cast including Alan Oke, Clive Bayley and Ffion Edwards.

Phelim McDermott's riotous Coney Island set production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte returns (March 2022) conducted by Kerem Hasan with a strong young cast. The lovers are Nardus Williams (making her role debut), Hanna Hipp [who sang Cherubino in last year's new production of Le nozze di Figaro, see my review], Amitai Pati, and Benson Wilson with Soraya Mafi as Despina and Neal Davies as Don Alfonso.

The final main-stage production of the season is a return of Poul Ruders' The Handmaid's Tale (April 2022) in a new production by Annilese Miskimmon, conducted by Joana Carneirio.  This is a canny move as Margaret Attwood's novel now has far greater prominence, thanks to its television adaptation, than it did back in 2003 when ENO gave the premiere of the English version of the opera. But it also addresses the issue that many singers are reluctant to re-learn roles in English, so an English-language modern classic like Ruders' opera is a way of attracting distinguished visitors.

This new production will be using a new orchestration. Kate Lindsay makes her ENO and role debut as Offred, with a cast including Raehann Bryce-Davis [whom we saw in Verdi's Don Carlos in Ghent, see my review] and Elin Pritchard both making their ENO debuts, plus John Findon, Susan Bickley, Emma Bell, Pumeza Matshikiza, Rhian Lois, Madeleine Shaw, Solomon Howard, Frederick Ballentine, Elin Pritchard, Alan Oke.

ENO's innovative ENO Breathe programme for long-COVID sufferers will be continuing throughout the season working with up to 1,000 patients in total across the country through referrals from 30 NHS long-COVID assessment clinics in regions across England.  And this Autumn the company is launching a new new creative music making programme for primary and secondary aged learners across London, Luton and Liverpool, Finish This, whereby children and young people create their own music by responding to unfinished operatic works (using specially commissioned material).

Full details from the ENO website.

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