Steps towards putting the “National” back in ENO?

29 Apr

The ENO’s plans have been announced today –

It makes an interesting mixture of the conventional but worth seeing (Otello with Skelton, Gardner and David Alden, a Richard Jones Fanciulla with Susan Bullock and Jones’s WNO Meistersinger with Iain Paterson), the interestingly off-beat (Peter Sellars doing John Adams and The Indian Queen and Mike Leigh doing Pirates of Penzance) – and, more than ever, work at other venues that the Coliseum.  Two things interest me.

The first is the duplication of repertory between ENO and the Royal Opera House.  London is going to have at least three runs of Boheme in the twelve months – the Copley production has two outings at the ROH (with quite desirable casts) and the Miller production is coming back for fourteen performances in between.   The same applies to La traviata – after this year’s series at the ROH, it returns there for another double cast run next May (with rather less desirable casts, unless it is your heart’s desire to see Domingo as the elder Germont) and then we have the Konwitschny production back in between.  Is there the audience in London simply for those two?  And is it fair to audiences that the choices here should be so limited?

The third duplication is Montiverdi’s Orfeo.  The ROH will be doing this in January at the Roundhouse; the ENO will be doing this in April at the Bristol Old Vic.  And it’s this move outside London that interests me most.

In recent years the ENO have given over the Coliseum to ballet in April and done smaller scale work at other places – the Young Vic, the Hampstead Theatre and the Barbican in particular.  It’s given a welcome opportunity for them to do stuff that doesn’t really fit at the Coliseum.  And the ROH has taken steps to follow suit with this years’ Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and next year’s Orfeo.   This year, ENO will be working at three outside venues: the Old Vic for a children’s opera (Joanna Lee’s “The Way Back Home“) in December; the Barbican for Tansy Davies’s Between Worlds in April and, also in April, thats Orfeo.  This must be the first time the ENO has performed in the UK outside London since they stopped touring in the 1980s.

In the old days the Sadler’s Wells Company, as it then was, had two companies that cox and boxed it between London and the provinces.  That ended in the late 1960s and the company ended its season at the Coliseum in March and then went on tour for the next couple of months.  Those tours gradually got whittled down until by, I think 1983, they came to an end.  Doubtless money was a problem but there was also the sense that touring was an inconvenience and standards couldn’t be as high as in London.

I am old enough to remember those tours when they visited Newcastle and Sunderland.  My first proper opera, The Barber of Seville was part of that (Derek Hammond-Stroud as Bartolo) and I’ve very happy memories between 1972 and 1979 of my first visits to Merry Widow, Fledermaus, Mary Stuart (with Sarah Walker), Carmen, Belle Hélène and, most wonderful of all, the Ring (Remedios, Elizabeth Connell, Aage Haugland) , as well as Patience, Cosi, Figaro and Vie Parisienne.  I wasn’t critical enough then to be able to judge what the standard was like and memory plays tricks.  I do remember being able to hear the words and having a really good time.  Had I been older and my parents richer, I could have seen Trovatore, Katya, Makropoulos Case, Gloriana, Semele, Entfuhrung, Butterfly, Boheme, Traviata and Tosca.  There was some overlap with Scottish Opera but it was rare.

The point was, first, that I got the opportunity to see these pieces but also that we were seeing work which was relatively new: this was what was going on in London, even if the casts weren’t always the same.  We felt that we were getting something for our subsidy.  It almost certainly isn’t practical now – the company was a huge ensemble and could credibly double cast productions from its own resources.  Productions were more practical to tour.  But I felt that something was lost when they stopped touring (even though I suspect that the company members were delighted).

So I think that it’s great that ENO is taking work to Bristol.  Live broadcasts to cinemas are better than nothing, but they can’t be the same as the experience in the theatre.  I hope that this will be the first of a number of projects for ENO outside the metropolis and that, perhaps, ENO may actually be able to justify the National in its title.


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