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Commentary

07 Apr 2019

English National Opera announces 2019/20 Season

ENO’s 2019/20 season features seven new productions and three revivals, the greatest number of new productions for five years.

The season celebrates the rise of the feminine, following last season’s focus on the notion of the patriarch and toxic masculinity. Following aspects of powerful women and the men they inspire, the season explores how opera can move beyond its traditional status as a place for doomed and punished women. For the first time more than half of the new productions are directed by women.

Also for the first time, a single story will form the basis for four of the new productions. The autumn of 2019 will see four different versions of the Orpheus myth as envisioned by very different composers and very different theatrical styles, showing how a single theme of loss, mourning and music can be turned by opera into a kaleidoscope of ideas and responses. Designer Lizzie Clachan provides the linking thread, with her magical, transforming set providing the basis for all four productions.

Artistic Director of ENO Daniel Kramer said: “I am delighted to present ENO’s 2019/20 artistic season, the second that Music Director Martyn Brabbins and I have curated together. The ten operas we are going to present on our main stage will touch on something very relevant today: the rise of the feminine in the world around us and within ourselves. What is a healthy balance of feminine and masculine energy in our society, our systems and, above all else, within ourselves? If last season questioned what aspects of ourselves and our society we might choose to lay to rest, this season asks what aspects we choose to carry forward together.

Our very exciting Orpheus project shows that a single idea can be imparted in a vast array of different forms. It is difficult to imagine a quartet of directors more different in background than myself, Netia, Wayne and Emma, but we will all be looking at this one tale of Orpheus and his quest to reclaim that which he lost. It’s one of the most universal stories there is and I hope audiences will come to see each one of the four to find something new in each opera, seeing and hearing how these master composers, reflecting our own lives, all share in the human struggle to hold onto that which we hold dear - love.

It is so important that ENO continues to push the boundaries of what is possible on the operatic stage and at the same time keep bringing in new audiences who may not have considered us before. Whether you’re a theatre-lover or a Philip Glass fan, a dance addict or maybe just want a rollicking night out, there’s going to be something for everybody.”

ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins said: “Our musical forces are as impressive as they ever have been: it is excellent to see the Chorus be nominated for another Olivier Award only three years after winning their last one with the Orchestra. It is extremely important to me that we continue to nurture the talents we have: our Mackerras Fellow Valentina Peleggi will be conducting her first full run with Carmen this season as well as performances of Orpheus in the Underworld alongside my predecessor Sian Edwards. Our brilliant Harewood Artists will sing in no fewer than 23 roles this season, and I am delighted that Nardus Williams and Idunnu Münch will join the programme, singing in Orpheus in the Underworld, Carmen and Rusalka.

I myself will be doing something both familiar, revisiting my friend Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus , which is one of ENO’s great gifts to the world, and stretching my legs a bit with a Puccini. As ever, the company remains extraordinarily diverse in what it can offer.”

Chief Executive Stuart Murphy said: “ Hopefully people can see that ENO has its mojo back, once again curating seasons that are as eclectic as they are risk taking, against a backdrop of financial stability and behind-the-scenes focus. This forthcoming season feels just what ENO should be doing, so huge thanks to Daniel, Martyn and their artistic and musical teams for all their hard work and flair in putting it together.

Embracing new audiences is key to our future, so we are delighted that our initial short-run experiment to give free tickets to Under 18’s in the balcony on Saturdays was met with such enthusiasm, allowing us to give away over 1000 tickets to young people. In 19/20 we will make this initiative a permanent fixture throughout the Coliseum part of our ENO season, and will dramatically increase access by extending Free Tickets for Under 18’s to the balcony for every Friday performance and every Opening Night. We will also reduce our lowest price ticket to ten pounds, with lots of “Tickets for a Tenner” available for every performance, and have kept our top price ticket frozen at £125 where it has stayed for the past four years.

We will be offering more choice at ENO, so will have one “Surtitle Free” night per opera, as well as an “Early Night” performance per opera that will never finish later than 10pm. This is in addition to our first ever “Relaxed Performance”, so that people with learning disabilities and physical impairments can come and see a production, as well as more signed performances than last season.

My first year at ENO has been busy but extremely rewarding. It’s a hugely inspiring place to work, and I want to thank everyone in the organisation for pulling together behind our singular vision to change lives through opera”

New productions at the London Coliseum

Orpheus and Eurydice
The Orpheus series and the 2019/20 Season begins with Wayne McGregor’s dance-infused account of Gluck’s great 18th- century masterpiece, in Hector Berlioz’s version. The bridging point between the baroque and the new vivid dramatic works of the classical period, Gluck’s extraordinary melodies helped secure the Orpheus myth as one of the cornerstones of opera for centuries to come.

Double Olivier Award-winner Wayne McGregor CBE makes his ENO directorial debut following one of the most outstanding careers in contemporary international dance, working with collaborators from The White Stripes to The Royal Ballet, where he is Resident Choreographer. His previous work includes choreographing Salome for ENO in 2005. His cutting-edge multi-disciplinary work has stood testament to his ceaseless curiosity and innovation, with this production an exploration of grief and loss in the human body. 16 dancers from Company Wayne McGregor join the three singers.

Legend of British opera Dame Sarah Connolly returns to ENO for the first time since 2016’s Lulu to sing her first Orpheus in London, while ENO favourite Sarah Tynan sings Eurydice. ENO Harewood Artist Soraya Mafi sings Love, continuing her career as one of Britain’s most exciting young sopranos. Harry Bicket, Artistic Director of the English Concert and Music Director of Santa Fe Opera, conducts, returning to where he began his career on the ENO music staff. Noted for his classical and baroque work, he brings a fine period sensibility to this piece. Lizzie Clachan, one of UK theatre’s most acclaimed designers, provides the transformative setsfor all four Orpheus productions. Costume design is by fashion designer Louise Gray, and lighting design is by Jon Clark.

Orpheus in the Underworld
Former Globe Theatre Artistic Director Emma Rice makes her ENO directorial debut with a raucous, joyful production of Offenbach’s great operetta, often considered the first of its kind. Known for her wildly popular direction of Kneehigh Theatre, Rice is one of the most distinctive theatrical practitioners at work today, combining wit, humanity and romance with a childlike wonder. She is the Artistic Director of the new company Wise Children.

A multi-talented ensemble cast portray the figures of Greek mythology as they are mercilessly satirised in this comic take on the tragic myth. Ed Lyon and Claudia Boyle sing Orpheus and Eurydice, joined by one of the UK’s most distinguished baritones Sir Willard White as Jupiter. Established ENO stars Alan Oke and Mary Bevan sing John Styx and Diana, while one of the first openly transgender opera singers, female baritone Lucia Lucas, sings Public Opinion. Harewood Artists Idunnu Münch and Alex Otterburn sing Pluto and Venus. Sian Edwards, former ENO Music Director, returns to conduct, while Mackerras Fellow Valentina Peleggi conducts three performances. Multi-award winning designer Lez Brotherston, famed for his work on Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, provides the costumes. The new English adaptation of the French original text is by Rice and Tom Morris, who collaborated to adapt Kneehigh hits like Nights at the Circus and A Matter of Life and Death.

The Mask of Orpheus
‘The finest British opera of the last half-century’ (The Guardian) receives only its second major staging, having premiered at ENO in 1986. Harrison Birtwistle’s masterpiece is performed to mark his 85th birthday, with its unique orchestra led by ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins. Noted for his definitive recording of the piece with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, this forms something of a signature piece for this contemporary music specialist.

Joining him in their third collaboration after War Requiem and Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel is ENO Artistic Director Daniel Kramer. Kramer returns to the composer who launched his career with ENO a decade ago: his Punch and Judy in 2008 won the South Bank Show Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera, and this production promises to continue that ‘total theatre’ approach to Birtwistle’s work. The rich, complex structure and enormously varied music of joy and grief will be accompanied by the costume designs of ‘England’s most eccentric dresser’ (Vogue) Daniel Lismore. After many exhibitions internationally of his work, this is his first opera.

Peter Hoare sings Orpheus the Man while Daniel Norman sings Orpheus the Myth; Marta Fontanals-Simmons makes her ENO debut as Eurydice the Woman while ENO audience favourite Susan Bickley sings Eurydice the Myth. The cast of contemporary music specialists also includes James Cleverton and Robert Hayward.

Orphée
ENO’s record as the ‘House of Glass’ receives a new addition with its first performance of Philip Glass’s Orphée. Based on Jean Cocteau’s cinematic retelling of the Orpheus myth, Netia Jones, ‘the most imaginative director of opera working in Britain today’ (The Observer) will provide one of the most extraordinary multi-media experiences available on the opera stage. Some of Glass’s most melodic music helps tell this timeless setting of the Orpheus myth as a dreamlike meditation on art and the artist. A show that fuses cinema and opera, projected extracts of Cocteau’s film and a set in constant motion will accompany the live action. This is in the ENO tradition of staging Glass’s operas as all-encompassing theatrical extravaganzas in the vein of Akhnaten and Satyagraha.

Sarah Tynan sings Eurydice in her second take on the role in the season. Jennifer France, ‘living jewel in opera’s crown’ (WhatsOnStage) and winner of the 2018 Emerging Talent Award from the Critics Circle, makes her ENO debut as the Princess. Nicholas Lester sings his first leading role with the company as Orphée, while former ENO Harewood Artists Nicky Spence and Anthony Gregory sing Heurtebise and Cégeste. Contemporary specialist Geoffrey Paterson conducts in his ENO debut.

Luisa Miller
Czech director Barbora Horáková Joly makes her UK directorial debut with a new production of Verdi’s great familial tragedy. Winner of the 2018 International Opera Award for Best Newcomer, her contemporary staging will focus on the psychological aspects of the piece, with an examination of how parental expectations can pass on pain across generations. This marks the first time the company has staged this central work of Verdi’s middle period.

In the title role former ENO Harewood Artist Elizabeth Llewellyn returns to the London Coliseum stage, where she debuted as Mimi in La bohème in 2010. She has since sung leading roles across Europe. Leading mezzo-soprano Christine Rice sings Federica in her first role with ENO since 2016’s Elvira in Don Giovanni. Olafur Sigurdarson makes his ENO debut as Miller while James Creswell sings Count Walter. Harewood Artist Nadine Benjamin, acclaimed for her roles in the previous season’s Porgy and Bess and La bohème, sings Laura. Alexander Joel also returns from a successful run of La bohème in the 2018/19 season to conduct.

The Marriage of Figaro
One of London’s most daring directors, Joe Hill-Gibbins makes his ENO main stage debut with an electrically charged new production of Mozart’s great comedy. Acclaimed for his uncompromising and surprising takes on classics like Richard II at the Almeida Theatre, he returns to opera after a much-praised 2017 production of Turnage’s Greek at the Edinburgh Festival. Previously for ENO he directed Powder Her Face in 2014.

Multi-award winning former Harewood Artist Sophie Bevan sings her first Countess in an anticipated role debut, while winner of the 2017 Young Singer International Opera Award Louise Alder sings Susanna in her ENO debut. Johnathan McCullough sings the Count and Harewood Artist Božidar Smiljanić marks his third role with the company as Figaro. Hanna Hipp sings Cherubino and Susan Bickley sings Marcellina, while ENO legend Andrew Shore brings his finest buffo to sing Bartolo. Chief Conductor of the Munich Symphony Orchestra Kevin John Edusei makes his ENO debut in the pit. After successful Mozartian conducting at the Komische Oper Berlin, this marks his UK operatic debut. He has previosuly performed at the Proms conducting the all-BAME Chineke! Orchestra.

Rusalka
Dvořák's greatest opera receives its first new ENO staging in 20 years in German director Tatjana Gürbaca’s company debut. Touching on themes of alienation and the separation between worlds, this profoundly humanistic fairy tale gives us a water nymph in many ways more human than the people she aspires to be among.

Corinne Winters makes her role debut as Rusalka. Having shot to fame with her ‘tour de force’ (Bachtrack) Violetta in ENO’s La traviata in 2013, she has since garnered an impressive international following. She is joined by David Butt Philip as the Prince. Jointly nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance in 2018’s War Requiem, his is one of the fastest-rising careers of any tenor in the UK. Endlessly versatile mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon sings Ježibaba. Noted for her performances in Partenope and The Gospel According to the Other Mary for ENO, she will also sing the role at Glyndebourne in summer 2019. Claire Rutter sings the Foreign Princess and David Soar sings the Water Spirit. Dutch conductor Antony Hermus, Principal Guest Conductor of the North Netherlands Orchestra, makes his ENO debut.

Revivals

Three much-loved productions return for revivals in the 2019/20 season.

The Mikado , in Jonathan Miller’s classic seaside town farce, returns having run for more than thirty years at the London Coliseum. The Marx Brothers-inspired Gilbert and Sullivan tomfoolery continues to delight audiences young and old. Harewood Artist Elgan Llŷr Thomas, ‘the latest discovery in a golden age of British tenors’ (Bachtrack) sings Nanki-Poo in his first main stage lead role for the company after twice singing Johnny Inkslinger in Paul Bunyan. Fellow Harewood Artist Soraya Mafi sings Yum-Yum, following her 2017 Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance. Richard Suart once again sings Ko-Ko and Andrew Shore sings Pooh-Bah, with Sir John Tomlinson appearing as the Mikado in his fiftieth production with the company. Ben McAteer and Yvonne Howard, beloved in 2018’s Iolanthe , also star. The opening night will be a Gala performance in aid of the new Sir John Tomlinson Fellowship.

Calixto Bieito’s sensual production of Carmen set in the dying days of Franco’s Spain has been admired across Europe and now returns to ENO, with Justina Gringytė reprising her title role from 2015: (‘superb’ - The Guardian). Sean Panikkar makes his ENO debut as Don Jose, as does new Harewood Artist Nardus Williams as Micaëla, while in the supporting cast are many ENO returning faces including Ashley Riches, Samantha Price, Matthew Durkan, Keel Watson, Elgan Lŷr Thomas and Alex Otterburn. Mackerras Fellow Valentina Peleggi conducts her first full set of Coliseum performances.

Madam Butterfly sees the return of Anthony Minghella’s ‘breathtakingly beautiful’ ( WhatsOnStage) 2006 staging, winner of that year’s Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production. Now in its seventh revival, the extraordinary puppetry of Blind Summit and the sumptuous visuals promise once again to entrance audiences along with Puccini’s heartbreaking score. Natalya Romaniw sings the lead role after ‘touching the heights’ ( The Guardian) with her Mimì in La bohème in 2018. Dimitri Pittas sings Pinkerton and Roderick Williams sings Sharpless following his Olivier nomination for War Requiem with ENO. Music Director Martyn Brabbins conducts.

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