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ENO’s Medea has all the signs of success

25 January 2013, London, UK

Sarah Connolly as ENO's Medea
Sarah Connolly as ENO's Medea(Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

For most big opera companies, Baroque repertoire involves an occasional foray into works by Handel. English National Opera is once again breaking the mould with its exploration of French baroque repertoire from the 17th century, an exceptionally fertile yet relatively untrammelled era, full of grand operatic works that have substance as well as style, packed full of thought-provoking themes.
After a theatrically daring and musically exquisite staging of Rameau’s Castor and Pollux, ENO turns to Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s masterpiece Medea, premiered in 1693. It’s a coruscating tale of suspicion, infidelity, revenge, murder and shocking infanticide, describing the tragic downfall of the sorceress Medea, mother of Jason (of Golden Fleece fame). The music is masterly and forward-looking in the way it illuminates the inner lives of the opera’s protagonists. Charpentier’s great coup is to treat the chorus and dance sequences as integral to the narrative, rather than as merely diverting ‘set pieces’. Medea’s summoning of demons as she prepares to poison her rival, is a chilling and atmospheric case in point.
ENO, meanwhile, has summoned a magical cast for David McVicar’s stylish, cinematic updating of the work to the elegant but emotionally disturbed interwar era of the 20th century. This is a chance to hear two of Britain’s very finest singers in extraordinary taxing but rewarding roles: Sarah Connolly as Medea and Roderick Williams as Orontes. The American tenor Jeffrey Francis makes his ENO debut as Jason, having established his credentials as a fine Baroque and Mozart specialist in several major opera houses in Europe.
Christian Curnyn conducts Charpentier’s powerful score, full of incident, with unexpectedly vivid bursts of orchestral colour that bring the drama to life. ENO’s Medea shows every sign of being one of the highlights of the 2012/13 opera season.

ENO's Medea runs from 15 February to 16 March 2013 at the Coliseum, London.


ENO halves reserves to pay for £2.2m deficit

16 January 2013, London, UK

Original report by Alex Stevens for Classical Music

English National Opera has filed its accounts for 2011/12, revealing an overall loss of £2.2m. This compares with losses of £55,000 in 2010/11 and £160,000 in 2009/10.

A statement from ENO said that the deficit would be covered by the company’s reserves, which now stand at less than £2.2m – down from more than £4.5m a year ago. A similar trading deficit in 2012/13 would therefore leave the company needing to borrow or requiring external investment in order to balance its books.

The results ‘reflect the cut in Arts Council England funding in 2012 and the impact of a very difficult economic environment on ticket sales, in a period of award-winning work, increased fundraising and strong international partnership contribution’, said a statement.

‘In this challenging financial environment we are also looking at the balance of work that we offer to our audiences and the ticket prices we charge.’

Despite year-on-year ticket sales falling by £1.2m, combined with a significant reduction in the company's grant from ACE (down by £1.3m to £17.2m), operational revenues actually increased by £200,000 in 2011/12.

ENO recently engaged brand agency Capitalize to develop sponsorship and corporate opportunities, including the possibility of selling naming rights to the Coliseum, the company’s home since 1968.

Compared with the Royal Opera House, situated a mile away in Covent Garden, ENO has seen year-on-year growth of 30% in sponsorship and donations, which increased from £2.7m to £3.5m last year, but still lags behind the Opera House, which brought in £18.4m in 2010/11.

Meanwhile, a report in the Guardian has revealed that ACE is conducting a review into the support it provides for opera and ballet.


Opera South presents new commission

15 January 2013

Composer William Godfree
Composer William Godfree

For many opera companies in the UK, community opera in 2013 means Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten, as part of the composer’s centenary celebrations.

However, the enterprising Opera South, is bucking this trend by commissioning a brand new work, written expressly with young people in mind and tailored to the resources of its local community as well as involving schools from neighbouring counties, based on an episode from Arthurian legend.

The Surrey-based company has asked William Godfree to write the opera, entitled Child Roland, which will be premiered in Haslemere in May this year. The opera’s forces are designed to harness as much local talent as possible: ten child soloists will join two adult professional singers, and there is a children’s and adults’ chorus, all accompanied by an ensemble of eight instrumentalists.

The music, explains Godfree, will be eclectic and packed with drama: ‘It’s something of a collage, using some traditional melodies blended with orginial material. Although some of the passages are quite challenging, shall we say, to the ear, the children’s lines tend to be very singable.’

The hour-long work unfolds in two acts that concern the exploits of Roland, son of King Arthur, sent on a quest to rescue his sister Ellen who has been snatched away by the evil King of Elfland.

Child Roland will be directed by Nigel Ramage and designed by John Braithwaite. Performances take place at Haslemere Hall, as part of the Haslemere Festival, on 18 and 19 May.


Verdi's Falstaff at Opéra Berbiguières

1 January 2013, Dordogne, France

Henry Waddington as Falstaff
Henry Waddington as Falstaff

Review by Robert Thicknesse

The idyllic Chateau de Berbiguières, property of an English judge, has been putting on operas since 2000. Emma Rivlin’s staging of Falstaff accomplished a little stroke of genius by freeing us from the legend, re-engineering the hero as a superannuated ex-star actor sluicing down the G&T’s in a boutique Dordogne hotel owned by loadsamoney English vulgarian Ford and family.

So we had a type miles away from your regular Fat Jack: you could do anything to this guy, and he would actually grow on you as he coped with his pratfalls. Porters Bardolph and Pistol provided a constant low-level provocation of the fellow, who remained invincible behind his bluster and vanity.

The stage was a corner of the Chateau courtyard, the windows above coming into play for Nanetta and Fenton’s carry-on as well as for gossipy onlookers. Henry Waddington played the hero with an affecting mix of self-esteem, injured pride and assurance. His terrific characterisation of Falstaff’s monologues, delivered with a sheepish self-awareness, made the awful fellow actually likeable – as of course does his final triumph, which tells us that the best way to combat the world’s cruelties is not to take them seriously.

This was an actual journey, with Falstaff’s ejection from the Ford hotel after being dunked providing a proper dramatic jolt. And all was jaunt and character, from Gareth Morris’s lairy Bardolph to Lilly Papaiannou’s fruity Meg. Laura Woods was a very young Quickly, with bags of attitude and a cultured way with music that is often barked by decrepit altos. Katharina Hagopian was a sparky Alice, Nicholas Darmanin made some nicely Italianate noises as Fenton, and Louise Alder (Nanetta) is a really promising young soubretty soprano. I admired conductor Samuel Hogarth’s sensitive pacing of a score that needs to balance momentum and musical indulgence. This was easily my favourite Falstaff of last year.


Peter Moores Foundation to support eight opera productions in 2013-15

6 December 2012, London, UK

Sir Peter Moores
Sir Peter Moores(Photo: Bill Cooper)

The Peter Moores Foundation has announced plans to support eight productions by UK opera companies between 2013 and 2015 under a scheme called the Swansong Project, which will mark the Foundation’s closure in 2014.

The eight companies, which have all enjoyed a long association with the Foundation, will present repertoire that would otherwise not be possible without this support, including a site-specific production of Musorgky’s Khovanshchina at Birmingham Opera Company, Donizetti’s three Tudor operas (Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux) at Welsh National Opera and the UK premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin at London’s Royal Opera House. The other five project partners are English Touring Opera, Opera North, Scottish Opera, English National Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Established by Sir Peter Moores in 1964, the Foundation has been a major supporter of opera in Britain over the past 50 years, as well as funding projects in education, health, community work and the visual arts.

Sir Peter said his commitment to opera has been inspired by a desire ‘to make things happen that otherwise would not happen, to enrich the repertory with works that otherwise would not be heard, and wherever possible to ensure that these reach and are accessible to the widest possible audience, whether through tours, broadcasts, education projects, recordings or in the cinema’.

He added: ‘While bringing our curtain down, we want to remind the world at large of the many ways, large and small, in which opera and its enjoyment can be nourished in the UK.  We want our Swansong to encourage other, younger, would-be or active philanthropists and charities to take up the baton.  Spread the word!’


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