Marketing: Part 2 – unnecessary claims

25 Aug

And while I’m on the subject of marketing, the publicity surrounding the recent Proms performance of ENO’s Peter Grimes has been seriously irritating me.
I quote from the programme:

“Britten’s psychological drama… was first produced in 1945 by Sadler’s Wells Opera, the precursor to ENO, and it has remained central to the company’s repertory ever since.”

Really?  What definition of “central” are ENO and the BBC using here?

Grimes was indeed first produced by Sadler’s Wells in 1945 and it stayed in the repertory for a couple of years.  It wasn’t then done by the company until 1963 in a production that hung around for five or six years.  It wasn’t done again until the Tim Albery production in 1991.  That was revived in 1994.  Then David Alden’s production came along in 2009.  Put it another way, the company tends to allow 15 or 20 years to elapse between the last performance of one staging and first of a new one.  Or, out of opera’s 65 year old life, it doesn’t perform it in at least 50 of those years.  That doesn’t strike me as being “central” to the repertory.

It goes further.  The company’s website says “Britten remains at the heart of ENO’s repertoire…”.  That suggests to me that Britten’s operas have been a strong feature of the repertory of the company throughout its history.  Frankly, it hasn’t.  After Grimes, Britten never wrote another opera for the company and the politicking surrounding its production made him form the English Opera Group because he couldn’t stand the atmosphere at Sadler’s Wells.  Apart from Grimes, the company didn’t perform another Britten opera until 1968 when it looked at Gloriana and, even after that, the company’s interest was at best fitful until the last decade.  Until the last decade, if you wanted to hear Britten, the place to go was the Royal Opera House, with the Welsh and Scots doing more than respectably.  In fact, looking back over its history, Janácek and, possibly, Handel have been far more central to ENO’s repertory than ever Britten was.

This isn’t anything to be particularly ashamed of – there was a limited public for Britten’s operas and the ROH had cornered the market.  What ENO has done spectacularly well in recent years is to carry forward a new generation of productions and approaches to the operas with pretty much uniformly outstanding results.  Can’t they just claim that rather than some sort of history of performing Britten’s works which simply hasn’t existed?

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