Tag Archives: Britten

Glyndebourne’s Lucretia returns

4 Aug

I admired Fiona Shaw’s production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia almost two years ago and it was good to revisit the show on 4th August as part of its Festival outing.  Even more strongly cast than the tour version, there had also been time to think further about the piece and develop the ideas.

My frustration with the libretto remains.  Even in the programme the cast were describing it as “of its time”.  I think it’s far worse than that.  It’s not just the frankly offensive Christian message at the end of the piece but the sheer ghastliness of the writing – images that make little sense, convoluted syntax and lines that seem to contradict each other.  The formal structure is quite interesting: the text vile.  As I came away, I decided that the only way to make it work would be for someone to translate it into German and perform it in that language with some hugely simplified surtitles.  I wonder how long opera companies will continue to perform it.

And yet the music is so wonderful.  There are passages where you feel that Britten never surpassed.  At this performance I was particularly struck by the oboe solo following the arrival of Collatinus in Act II.  That was fabulously well played and intensely moving.  Britten gets the atmosphere perfectly – that sultry, over-heated night at the army tents, the glory of the morning and sheer excitement of the ride to Rome.  Simply as a piece of music, this is a gem.

And it was very well performed.  It was a joy to hear the soloists of the LPO play so beautifully – I don’t think I’ve heard the piece played so intelligently and hauntingly.  Leo Hussain conducted it with huge confidence and, I thought, paced it pretty much perfectly.  My one complaint was that I felt that the ensemble before the final commentary of the Choruses could have been bigger – the feeling should be akin to the interlude in Wozzeck after the death of Marie and should leave you feeling drained and shattered.  Here it didn’t quite.  I think that was partly to do with a very quiet chamber-ish approach: soloists rarely forced and created an intimate, conversational atmosphere that felt right – but you have to get the power of that question “is it all?” a bit more strongly, I feel.

Fiona Shaw’s production is intelligent and gets some outstanding performances out of her cast.  At this performance, however, I was left wondering whether she didn’t try a bit too hard, whether the very detailed relationship and involvement of the Choruses wasn’t taken a step too far and whether this didn’t detract from the concentration on Lucretia herself.  Isn’t it slightly more chilling if they aren’t involved?  Either way, it felt like a rather busy production and just missed the cathartic intensity that I still remember from Graham Vick’s ENO production.

The cast had been significantly strengthened.  Retained from the tour welre Allan Clayton’s intelligently sung Male Chorus – I don’t think that he’s done anything better, words were clear and the variation and intensity in his singing was hugely impressive – only Anthony Rolfe-Johnson has bettered him, in my experience – Duncan Rock’s handsome and rather stupid Tarquinius and Catherine Wyn-Rogers’s Bianca.  The latter has been singing this since 1993 and gave one of those lovely performances that seemed absolutely assured and, in its way, perfect.

Christine Rice was a marvelous Lucretia coming into her own after the rape and bringing a quiet desperation that was intensely moving.  I’m not sure that even Jean Rigby managed to plumb the depths of self-disgust that Miss Rice managed: I don’t think I’ve seen a better performance from her.  Kate Royal was luxury casting as the Female Chorus and I loved the sheer ease with which she delivered the music.  This was really intelligent, beautiful singing.  Matthew Rose was an outstanding Collatinus with the right warmth of voice, intelligence and anger and acted perfectly.  I remember him and Lucretia sitting together after the rape, side by side – an unforgettable image of tenderness.  Only Daniel Sumuel struck me as slightly disappointing as Junius – the sound not as powerful as I’d have liked.

So there were wonderful things here – an inquiry, intelligent production that had moved on in the two years and gained depth.  It almost convinced me that this was a great opera – until Duncan’s text ruined it all.

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Return of the Screw

26 Oct

Glyndebourne’s Turn of the Screw is back again – its fourth incarnation – and I saw the performance on 24th October.  It’s one of their strongest productions and repays seeing again even though Jonathan Kent wasn’t back to rehearse it – too busy in Chichester doing an outstanding job with Gipsy – well worth a visit if you can get a ticket.

I have mixed feelings about Turn of the Screw.  I find it compelling and gripping to watch.  At the end of a good performance, I feel rather as I do after Wozzeck or Winterreise or King Lear, wrung out and not really feeling like applauding or anything much.  Technically, it seems to me to be almost faultless, the scenes just the right length, the vocal writing impeccable and inexorably building up to the climax.  You watch fixated as the tragedy unfolds.  And yet, and yet.  I find the ghosts and their relationship with the children most problematic in the sense that I find it quite hard to pin down exactly what it is that causes the possession.  And that perhaps says more about my literal approach.  I find Myfanwy Piper’s text for the ghosts, in particular, difficult to take.  I don’t know what it means.  While this gives scope for directors, I rarely find that it’s satisfactorily addressed and that feeling of unresolved ambiguity also leaves me with a slightly unsatisfied feeling.  Probably my fault.

One thing which struck me at this performance which I’d not heared before was the little crackle of percussion and trumpet preceding Peter Quint’s first entry which reminded me very strongly of that associated with Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I think it would be interesting if directors could explore more the attraction that the ghosts possess for the children.  We always seem to see Peter Quint in his black valet’s clothes and Miss Jessel in dripping black like some refugee from Rusalka.  But don’t they also present a world that’s different from the stifling boringness of Mrs Grose and the Governess?  Isn’t there a magic to it?  Could they be attractive?  Does there need to be a sexual element between the ghosts and the children?   Isn’t it more about an idea of an alternative?  And is there not something in Britten about that attraction of being outside the norm?

Jonathan Kent’s production doesn’t explore that particularly but it’s very good at everything else.  Paul Brown’s set is mesmerisingly good with its multiple revolves and ability to achieve scene changes seamlessly – if, these days, a bit noisily.  I think that the updating to the 1950s works well in creating the right sort of social ambience and Natalia Romaniw’s Governess nicely caught the element of social climbing about her.  Perhaps some of the focus has become fuzzier over time.  This time I missed an element of knowingness and defiance about Miles that previous productions brought out and I seem to recall greater ambivalence about the Mrs Grose/Governess relationship before.  That didn’t stop the opera packing a huge punch.

The cast is strong.  Ms Romaniw makes an impulsive, naive Governess, she sings it beautifully and her diction (as was the case with everyone) made the surtitles more or less redundant.  This was a hugely promising performance, making me want to hear her in more Britten and much else.  Anne Mason is excellent as Mrs Grose, though I missed the sense that I’ve had from others, that she was taking Flora away as much to get her away from the Governess as for any other reason.  She sang it convincingly and acted it convincingly.  Miranda Keys made a fearsome Miss Jessel and others have made her grief and bitterness more moving – there’s a bit more to the relationship between the two than Piper’s libretto or this production make clear.  Anthony Gregory was a young, handsome Prologue and Quint.  I could have done perhaps with an extra ounce more power, but this was encouragingly promising singing and good sinister acting.

The children were pretty strong.  Tom Delgado-Little sang clearly as Miles and brought his own personality to the part.  Louise Woodley was also excellence as Flora and got the best out of her burst of anger at the Governess – one of those harrowing moments in the opera.

Leo McFall conducted confidently and the orchestra played as well as it should.  It felt like a strong ensemble performance and every word told.

So, it’s good to see the show again.  The audience on this Friday night wasn’t full, but I hope that audiences on the road will be better.  Whatever my doubts about the work, it’s an enthralling evening and, at the end, I was silent and didn’t feel like applauding – which is as it should be.

Britten and Britten Variations at Glyndebourne

18 Aug

One of the nice innovations at Glyndebourne in recent years has been the free performances in the Jerwood Studio before a small number of the performances towards the end of the season.  It’s an opportunity for experimentation and for some chorus members to get some additional experience. The Yellow Sofa was first done here and proved a fine opportunity for a promising young composer to try his hand at opera.

This year, their Composer in Residence, Luke Styles had an opportunity with Wakening Shadow.  I saw the last performance on 17th August.  Styles has taken three of Britten’s Canticles, orchestrated them and added three of his own settings and an opening to, apparently, explore the relationship between man and divinity.  It lasts about 70 minutes.

The good things about the performance were the committed performances by the cast (particularly outstanding performance from Owen Willetts as the counter-tenor roles in the Canticles, Rupert Charlesworth in the Saint Narcissus canticle and Stuart Jackson in Abraham and Isaac, Vladimir Jurowski’s splendid conducting and, I felt Styles’s confidence with the orchestra.  The sound world that he created for the instrumentalists was fascinating and, particularly in the Britten settings, provided a really strong background for the words.  I enjoyed listening to it.

The less good things were the overall concept itself, which struck me as messy and difficult to follow, Daisy Evans’s frankly desperate attempts to make it interesting and, ultimately,  Styles’s setting of words.  By putting his own settings of Shelley, Brodsky and Byron alongside Britten’s, he was setting himself a very high bar indeed.  Whenever Britten’s settings started, you felt a sense of relief at being able to make out the words and, more importantly, the sentences and the meaning.  I wasn’t convinced this was a coherent or dramatic work.

Still, it wasn’t a wasted afternoon.  It’s good to have the opportunity to hear Styles’s music and I heard enough to feel that I wanted to hear more.  It will be good to hear WIlletts, Jackson and Charlesworth again, too.

The main reason for the visit, though, was to see the revival of Billy Budd. The reviews have been outstanding and it’s an opera i love.  When I saw it in 2010, I wasn’t completely convinced by Michael Grandage’s production, finding it a bit remote and without the insights that, say, Vick, Albery and Alden have found in this opera and I thought Jacques Imbraillo’s Budd a bit anonymous.  But the prospect of Andrew Davis conducting and Mark Padmore as Vere was enticing.

I spent the first three quarters of this performance admiring the evening but without being involved.  Grandage’s production is clear and honest.  It tells the story cleanly but without a single interesting or memorable image.  Characters act and react to each other well.  I suspect that this is a production which works better from the stalls where you are closer and can watch the acting (Grandage’s main successes recently have been at the Donmar Warehouse, where every blink counts).  The set, specifically a ship is claustrophobic (of course it’s meant to be) and heavy, which works for telling the story but doesn’t provide some of the lightness and spaciousness that, in fact, the opera needs if the metaphysical element is to come across.  Twice a ceiling comes down which effectively cuts off those of us in the upper regions of the theatre.

Davis’s conducting struck me as strong, clear but without making you aware, as Mark Elder did when this was new, of the remarkable tinta of the opera, the specific dark colouring.  The singers were excellent and there was nothing to dislike.  Padmore was a fine, clear Vere, Imbraillo seemed much more assured than last time, but still a bit anonymous; Brindley Sherratt was a well-sung, reptilian, sinister Claggart.

Then, after Claggart died, the whole piece started to become gripping and enthralling.  The trial scene became a centre piece as everyone new what the outcome would be and knew that it was wrong.  You understood the dilemma and agonised over it.  Then came Billy in the Darbies and I don’t think I have ever heard it more beautifully sung.  Imbraillo caught anger and about it that I’d not heard before, but also a stillness.  I don’t think I’ve heard it sung more softly.  The scene with Jeremy White’s marvellous Dansker was heart-breaking and one of Grandage’s finest images is the picture of Dansker, the Novice’s Friend and the two other pressed men, holding the rope that hangs Billy.  The rebellion seemed to me to be the most threatening and likely to succeed that I’ve seen.  At that point, the audience was gripped and it was left to Mark Padmore to wrap it up wonderfully.  This is the magic that at good Budd should weave.

Padmore didn’t disappoint.  He sounds entirely right for the role and has exactly the right intellectual, other-worldly worried mien for the man – he is easily the finest Vere since Philip Langridge and I don’t think I can imagine a better.  Sherratt’s Claggart managed to combine the violence and sheer creepiness that it is in the man.  There were super performances from Peter Gijsbertsen as the Novice, Duncan Rock as his friend and the remainder of the officers.  The chorus was outstanding.

I had thought until the interval that Andrew Davis’s conducting was, as you would expect from him – fine, idiomatic and hugely reliable.  In the second Act, it was substantially more than that.  It’s a long time since I’ve heard the battle scene have the level of impact that it provided here.  He ratched up the tension as the Act went on and, at the end, there was a silence as the audience absorbed what it had seen and heard.  He’s a great conductor and, after his return for Rusalka in 2011, it would be nice to see him back again soon.

So it was a good day at Glyndebourne – but go for the more expensive seats.

Not very glorious Gloriana

22 Jun

The Royal Opera House’s performance of Gloriana on 20th June was my third visit to the opera (the others were the old ENO production with Sarah Walker and Opera North’s with Josephine Barstow).  It didn’t disturb my view that the first night audience probably got it about right. There’s an idea that it’s an unjustly neglected masterpiece wrecked by a frosty reception at its opening night by people who didn’t like opera anyway.  Well, lots of operas have survived disastrous first nights but, even though the subsequent performances were allegedly more successful, Gloriana has struggled.  There’ve only been two productions in the UK before this one (only Paul Bunyan and Owen Wingrave have done worse) and, while those were successes, this new production was the first performance here in 20 years and, if the opera is that good, surely it would have happened more often.  And there is only one recording available.  And, after this, I think the reason’s clear: overall and despite some good things, it’s a failure.

The problems were all too apparent in this performance.  William Plomer’s libretto is uneasy in its mock Elizabethan, its silly heroics and a diction that sounds artificial, like some sort 1950s idea of what they would have said.  It struck me that nothing dates more than a previous generation’s view of history.  Then there is the uneasy mixture of styles and locations, giving it almost a pageant or vaudeville feel.  In the Norwich scene absolutely nothing happens.  Lady Essex and Penelope Rich are introduced too late and have little opportunity to make much impression and the ballad singer’s scene just seems to be an odd invention.  Dramatically it doesn’t hold together.

There are, however, two really wonderful scenes – those for Elizabeth and Essex: the first with its eroticism and the second with its regret and bitterness.  The court scene at the end of Act II is enjoyable and, in the right performance, the picture at the end of the Queen left on her own can be striking and moving.  And, there is some glorious music and fine choral opportunities.  But each time that I’ve seen it, I’ve found my mind wandering, wondering when something interesting is actually going to happen.

I felt that Richard Jones’s production actually emphasised these problems while diminishing some of the more interesting parts of the opera.  He sets it in the 1950s with the young Queen Elizabeth II coming to see a performance by what looks like local amateurs.  There was more than a hint of the community of Albert Herring. Schoolchildren come on with cards telling your where each scene is set.  We can see backstage as stage hands change the scene, offstage musicians and prompters play and there is the whole apparatus of a performance.  We aren’t meant to take it too seriously – one of the silly horses from Robert le Diable is clearly performing in the joust.  At the end, Elizabeth II leaves and the curtains open and she and the old Elizabeth I look at each other.  And so this is yet another performance “about” the opera and the time of its performance.  What this says to me is that the director doesn’t feel that there is anything interesting in the opera itself and so he tells you about the making of it.  Didn’t we see this in Donna del Lago and isn’t one production of this sort per season enough?

As ever, it’s a precise piece of work, but also a very cold one.  There wasn’t much tenderness or eroticism in the lute scene and for many of the others it wasn’t easy to tell whether Jones was mocking the characters, the opera or 1950s amateur dramatics.  I felt that the end, which resulted in a gurgle of pleasure from the audience, undercut one of the major premises of the opera – the lonely fading away of the old queen.  It certainly didn’t do anything to rescue the opera.  Indeed, Jones seemed to feel that the opera is simply a mildly interesting celebratory pageant?

At least there was huge pleasure to be got from the musical side.  Paul Daniel conducted the piece for Opera North and obviously knows it well.  He got outstanding playing from the orchestra and superb choral singing.  The cast was great with Toby Spence ideal casting as the impetuous Leicester, Mark Stone great as Mountjoy, Clive Bayley a strong Raleigh, Patricia Bardon committed and intelligent as Lady Essex and Kate Royal very fine indeed as Penelope Rich.  Andrew Tortise as the Spirit of the Masque was also really outstanding and Brindley Sherratt excellent as the Ballad Singer.  And there was a towering performance from Susan Bullock as Elizabeth I – her steely voice with its bright, clear top sounded absolutely right for the role and made an interesting contrast to rather darker tones of Sarah Walker and Josephine Barstow.  Every word was crystal clear.  For much of the time, however, I kept thinking what a wonderful Lady Billows she would make, how there were more than the makings of a fine cast of Albert Herring here, and how I’d much rather be seeing that.

So, for me, a disappointment and an evening that convinced me that I really wouldn’t mind much if I never saw the opera again.  The audience reaction at the end suggested I was in a minority but a number had left at the interval.  I’d love to know if any people who were present at that first run, sixty years ago, came to see it here and what they thought then and think now.

Death in Venice lives

19 Jun

Death in Venice strikes me as unique in Britten’s operatic output.  All his others have plots involving conflict and characters who play off each other.  In Death in Venice you have an evocation of a single man’s internal conflicts.  External characters trouble him but, essentially, the opera is a monologue for Aschenbach and orchestra with interruptions from other characters.  If many of his operas are about the way in which outsiders fit in to their community, this opera takes it to an extreme.  The result is a very different sort of opera which can appear long and slow.  It relies on a strong central performance, virtuoso orchestral playing and direction that keeps the interest alive.

When I saw Deborah Warner’s ENO production six years ago, the opera seemed longer and slower and more tedious than I remembered from other visits.  I wasn’t convinced by Ian Bostridge as Aschenbach and, however, beautifully done the production was, I felt that the opera was a bit of a trial and seemed enormously self-indulgent.

I was in two minds as to whether to attend the revival.  I’m glad I did as the performance on 18th June seemed stronger and more interesting than I had remembered, even if it didn’t completely dispel doubts about the piece.

It helped to have John Graham-Hall as Aschenbach.  It’s 27 years since I saw him as Albert Herring and he’s become a wonderful singing actor and interpreter of Britten.  He is eminently watchable, creating a character that looks like a distinguished German author.  He communicates with absolute honesty with the audience and manages the changes in Aschenbach’s mind wonderfully – you get the gradual awakening of interest up to the climactic “I love you” at the end of the first act, moving into disintegration during the second.  He sang the words with absolute clarity – no need for the absent surtitles – and had you holding on to every word.  He phrased them and coloured them impeccably, creating an entirely convincing character.  Other Aschenbachs have been more melliflous but I don’t think I have found any so convincing or interesting – and I don’t believe that Britten was writing this for beautiful singing.  This was the central performance and held the cast together.

The others were all good.  Andrew Shore is a convincing actor and did the seven baritone roles with aplomb.  His voice is sounding more frayed than it did and I remember Alan Opie making a much more convincing and sinister set of villains.  Tim Mead sang Apollo strongly and all the rest of the huge cast did their roles clearly and well.  Sam Zaldivar looked good as Tadzio and you could understand Aschenbach’s obsession with him.

Deborah Warner’s production now strikes me as a complete masterpiece of direction.  She catches the leisurely, introspective feel of the music to perfection.  Each move is perfectly choreographed and planned.  It moves with the music, never distracting, always in tune with what you’re hearing.  The wide set, the shades of white, grey and black, the gently swaying curtains, all provide the atmosphere that’s needed.  Kim Brandstrup’s choreography is as  good as I’ve seen.

Edward Gardner is back to conduct and seems entirely in tune with his director.  Is his pacing a bit too deliberate?  At times I thought so – it felt like a long opera and there were times in the second act where I found my mind wandering – but he gets wonderful colours out of the orchestra and they play with precision and warmth.

I don’t find this an easy opera to love – there are few heart-stopping moments, none at all where you identify with the characters and I tend to leave thinking “so what”, but there is undoubtedly a fascination about the piece, a strange beauty and certainty about it.  It was unexpectedly good to see it again.

That last train problem (or why start Albert Herring at 7.45?)

5 Oct

When I go to the opera I usually have three options for getting home: the 22.47 which gets me in bed by midnight and is my preferred option; the 00.05 which involves hanging round Victoria, all the disadvantages of the last train and its habitués and a 01.45 bedtime (not great if you’re getting up four and a quarter hours later); and the 23.06 and a £25 taxi ride.  So, round about the 22.15 mark at the opera (and at times even earlier) I find myself distracted by the question: “is this worth missing the 22.47 for?”.  If the performance isn’t over by 22.25 then the chances of me getting that train are remote.  At least one of the advantages of online booking is that, with a bit of luck and care I can choose an aisle seat or one from which I can make an unobtrusive-ish exit should I decide that the train is more important than seeing the ending.  So, when in future I refer to the “22.47 test”, you will know what I mean.

This question arose particularly at English Touring Opera’s performance of Albert Herring at the Linbury on 4th October.  Herring is one of my very favourite operas and this was a very enjoyable performance of it.  But I’ve seen it several times before and, at 22.20, the threnody had just ended and I know the piece well enough to know that that it would be inconveniently after 22.25 before it finished.  I was sitting at the end of a row and I legged it.  What made me angry was that the performance began at 19.45.  Why?  Every sensible opera house begins at its shows at 19.30 at the latest (unless it’s something like Elektra – and I’m thinking of starting a campaign to have that starting them too) and, had ETO done so on this occasion, I would have had time to enjoy, applaud and be happy instead of feeling a nagging regret that I’d missed the last few minutes.  Why alienate your punters like this – particularly since you’ve long stopped visiting anywhere as metropolitan as Brighton these days.

Having got that off my chest, there was a huge amount to enjoy about this performance.  Let’s begin with the crisp, alert, witty, detailed conducting from Michael Rosewell, who pointed the chuckling and subversion of the strings and bassoon and the wistful richness of the clarinets to perfection.  The subtleties of the chamber score came over really well in this theatre.

There was also a lot to enjoy among in the performances.  Two struck me as outstanding.  Jennifer Rhys-Davies made a fearlessly sung and thoroughly fearsome Lady Billows, whom you would not want to meet on a dark night: I can’t say how it would work in a larger house but here she felt like the best Lady Billows that I’ve seen and got more words across than most others.  Charles Rice as Sid grabbed this gift of a role and sang it with a really fine nut-brown baritone and looked absolutely right as the local jack-the-lad.  He’s someone to watch.

The others were excellent, too. Rosie Aldridge was a younger than usual Florence in a trouser suit with a cigarette (Lady Billow’s reaction, “nasty masculine smell” pretty much confirmed the likely sexual orientation of this character), but here is a mezzo to reckon with.  Anna-Clare Monk was a sweetly sung, innocent Miss Wordsworth, Charles Johnston was a hearty vicar and Timothy Dawkins a very nicely understated Budd.

I was less sure about Clarissa Meek as Mrs Herring: she struck me as much better being, well, meek to the gentry than bullying Albert.

And then there was Mark Wilde as Albert who reminded you what a difficult role this can be.  In the early scenes he made hulking Albert, with a twitch and you wondered whether he was taking on too much the “bit simple, of course” description from the first scene.  He made quite a strong transformation after the wedding and sang the words well.  Equally, though, I wondered if he wasn’t just a bit old and experienced for the role.  The best Alberts that I’ve seen have tended to be the ones just beginning on their careers and not long out of music college.  Notwithstanding Pears, this is an role that needs something a bit less studied than, I felt, Wilde provided.

Christopher Rolls promised us “Another queer version of a Britten family”.  What we got was an alert, intelligent performance by a set of individuals and, Florence apart and unless I missed something in the last few minutes, nothing particularly Queer.  The set was a wooden frame, rather like a cage in which furniture was moved to suggest the different locations.  The costumes suggested a ’30s or, given Sid’s uniform in Act 3, perhaps ’40s setting.  What you got was a sense of community, of characters who had lived with each other and knew each other and who reacted intelligently to the words.  There were things that I missed from the classic Peter Hall Glyndebourne production but other ideas that worked just as well.  I thought, for example, that his very simple staging of the threnody worked far better than Hall’s more elaboartely choreographed version.

I know that some Serious People in the opera world hate this piece.  I can’t for the life of me think why: it’s one of the perfect comedies in the repertory with Britten as the outsider subverting and questioning their values and, above all, with a passion for youth and the future.  It’s a joyous piece and this was a lovely performance.  If only it had started 15 minutes earlier…

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?