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12 Aug 2020

Full cast and creative team announced for ENO Drive & Live at Alexandra Palace

The English National Opera (ENO) announces the full details of the first ENO Drive & Live - Europe's first live drive-in opera production that audiences can safely experience from their cars.

Puccini’s most famous opera, La bohème tells the heart-breaking story of writer Rodolfo and seamstress Mimì. This new production directed by PJ Harris and designed by Chloe Lamford, is a retelling of the classic tale of doomed romance, set in the present day.

Featuring the combined forces of the award-winning ENO orchestra and world-class live singers, the performance will use microphones, whilst the wireless sound system will broadcast high quality audio directly to audiences. Performers will be on a raised and covered stage, with large screens to each side also relaying the performance to ensure all audience members enjoy an immersive experience.

The cast, chorus and orchestra are double cast and will alternate throughout the run. They will rehearse and perform in these two separate ‘bubbles’, whilst maintaining social distance as per the latest government advice. Each bubbled group consists of; 34 members of the ENO Orchestra, 20 ENO Chorus members and 8 principals. Each bubble will have its own individual crew to oversee their rehearsals and performances.

Those without a car will be able to enjoy the performance too. Distanced bicycle spaces are available for those who wish to arrive on two wheels. The ENO has also partnered with Uber who will coordinate 10 ‘Uber Boxes’ per performance - parked vehicles offering a front row experience for those without car or bicycle access.

There will be 50 free tickets available to the dress rehearsal for NHS staff via ballot and a number of free tickets will be available to drivers who use the Uber app to thank them for their key worker roles.

Ticket buyers have the option of making a small £3 donation to contribute towards carbon offsetting the impact of these events. These donations will be directly transferred to a carbon offsetting charity within 30 days of the final performance.

Artistic Director Annilese Miskimmon comments: ‘Here at the ENO we think of ourselves as experimenters - trialling innovative ideas on behalf of the whole opera industry. It’s no secret that COVID has had a major impact on the arts, so we’re ripping up the rulebook with ENO Drive and Live. These performances are an opportunity to create a thrillingly unmissable pilot project, allowing opera fans to enjoy world-class opera without fear. It’s a huge creative challenge, but the success of this will allow us to see how best to roll the performances out nationally, bringing our award-winning forces to audiences everywhere.’

The performance will be broadcast exclusively on Sky Arts, when the channel becomes free for everyone across the UK to watch on Freeview and Freesat in September; forming part of its supercharged mission to increase access to and participation in the arts, at a vital time for the cultural sector. It will also be available on streaming service NOW TV. The broadcast will be produced by Somethin Else; Executive Producer is Jez Nelson and Live Director is Marcus Viner. The programme was commissioned by Director of Sky Arts Philip Edgar-Jones and the Commissioning Editor is Benedetta Pinelli.

Philip Edgar-Jones, Director of Sky Arts says: ‘As culture emerges slowly back into the light and as Sky Arts becomes free for everyone to enjoy we are thrilled to be partnering with the ENO on this ground-breaking project to bring opera to the Drive-In. It’s fitting that this world first is taking place at Alexandra Palace, the spiritual home of TV, and La bohème is the perfect story to reflect the time we are in right now.’

Safety is paramount - live singers and musicians will be spaced out in accordance with government guidelines, throughout rehearsals and performances. All public areas and Uber Boxes will be regularly cleaned and social distancing will be observed at all times on site.

Louise Stewart Chief Exec of Alexandra Palace says: ‘We are thrilled to be working in partnership with ENO on Europe’s first ever live drive-in opera. This truly enterprising project, continues our long-standing tradition of innovation at Alexandra Palace.’

Creative Team

Wielding the baton are the ENO Music Director and acclaimed conductor Martyn Brabbins and the ENO Head of Music Martin Fitzpatrick. Martyn Brabbins has conducted at La Scala and Bayerische Staatsoper and with the Royal Concertgebouw, DSO Berlin, Philharmonia and BBC Symphony, and regularly at the BBC Proms. He has conducted hundreds of world premieres and made around 150 CDs. Martin Fitzpatrick is a conductor and translator for the ENO. Other career highlights include work with companies including the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, Scottish Opera and Royal Danish Opera, where he was Head of Music.

Martyn Brabbins comments: ‘ENO’s irrepressible energy to bring great opera to life, even in the most trying of times, has given rise to the unique and splendid Drive & Live. Like most people, I have had many frustrating car-park experiences - scraped my car, lost my car in a Heathrow long-stay, been fined for overstaying - but the prospect of conducting La bohème at Alexandra Palace, brings for me a new and exciting significance to the potential of the car-park! The ENO orchestra and chorus, and a cast assembled from the very finest of talent, are revving up and more than ready to rekindle our passion for this supreme of art forms in a way nobody ever imagined before.’

Directing this new production is PJ Harris. Trained at Scottish Opera, PJ was named as ‘one to watch’ by the BBC’s performing Arts Fund in 2015. Recent directing credits include Vespers of 1610 for Garsington Opera and 2018’s 5-star concert staged production of Salome for Opera North.

Production design is by internationally renowned designer Chloe Lamford. Chloe’s opera work includes Ariadne Auf Naxos,​ ​Alcina​, and P​elleas and Melisande for Aix-en-Provence Festival and Miranda for Opera Comique, Paris. Chloe’s oeuvre also includes contemporary art installations and theatre design, notably in ​Amadeus (National Theatre) and Hilary and Clinton on Broadway. Chloe is Associate Designer for the Royal Court Theatre.

Director PJ Harris says: 'It’s extremely exciting to be part of the ENO’s ground-breaking project, bringing live opera back to audiences in such an innovative format. In La bohème we see what happens when young love, passion, hopes, dreams and creative ambition are confronted with the reality of loss and grief. The opera’s powerful mixture of intense emotion, with Puccini’s incredible music and unforgettable storytelling, makes this as poignant now as when it was first written.’

Designer Chloe Lamford says: ‘It’s so exciting to create a new production in this way, and really stretch my and the audience’s imagination without the confines of a predetermined space or traditional theatre. Here we’ve got the chance to build the whole experience from the very beginning; a rare chance to redefine what opera can be.’

Costumes are by Camilla Clark, whose previous work with the ENO includes 2018’s Paul Bunyan where the design was praised for its ‘wit and style’ (Culture Whisper). Trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Camilla was a winner of the Linbury Prize for Stage Design in 2015.

Lighting is by Olivier Award-winning lighting designer Nastasha Chivers, whose credits include Orestia and Hamlet (Almeida) and Sylvia (Old Vic).

Sound Design is Ian Dearden. Ian was part of the original sound design team for Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus in 1986 at the ENO. Alongside his production company Sound Intermusica, Ian returned to design sound for the landmark opera in 2019. His recent credits include Orfeo and The Return of Ulysses (Royal Opera House at the Roundhouse) and the sound design for the exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (V&A).


Sharing the role of seamstress Mimì are Natalya Romaniw and Sinéad Campbell Wallace, whilst writer Rodolfo will be sung by David Butt Phllip and David Junghoon Kim.

Acclaimed Welsh soprano Natalya last undertook the role of Puccini’s tragic heroine in the 18/19 revival of Jonathan Miller’s much-loved production for the ENO, making her house debut. Tipped as ‘one of the outstanding sopranos of her generation’ (Daily Telegraph), Natalya’s most recent role was a ‘remarkable’ (The Sunday Times) Cio-Cio San in ENO’s Madam Butterfly.

Expert Irish dramatic soprano Sinéad Campbell Wallace will be making her ENO debut in this production. Praised for ‘an excellent performance’ as Silvia in Zanetto for Scottish Opera, Sinéad started her career as a light-lyric soprano but through recent seasons Sinéad has moved into a fuller dramatic repertoire. This summer she makes debuts at the Salzburg Festival, Madrid and with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Olivier Award-nominated tenor David Butt Philip reunites with Natalya Romaniw following Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Iolanta where their performance was praised as ‘enough on their own to make the whole evening worthwhile’ (the Guardian). One of the most outstanding British tenors of his generation, David reprises the role of Rodolfo following his ENO debut in 2014.

Sharing the role of Rodolfo is Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim. His ENO debut last season as another Rodolfo (this time in Luisa Miller) was ‘sung with radiance, lyricism and power’ (The Stage). A former Jette Parker Young Artist, David is a winner of the much-coveted Francisco Viñas, Voci Verdiane and Toulouse singing competitions.

Sharing the role of Marcello are Roderick Williams OBE and former ENO Harewood Artist Matthew Durkan. Olivier-nominated baritone Roderick is one of the UK’s most sought-after opera singers and returns to the ENO following last season’s Madam Butterfly. ENO favourite Matthew most recently sung Dancairo in 2020’s Carmen, and received praise for his Polyphemus’ ‘considerable pathos’ (Bachtrack) in 2018’s Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House.

Dubbed ‘one to listen out for’ (the Guardian) on the basis of her ‘creamy’ voiced ENO debut as Michaela in Carmen this January, British soprano Nardus Williams shares the role of Musetta with fellow Harewood Artist Soraya Mafi. Hailed as ‘a diamantine Titania, scattering colatura like stardust’ (Daily Telegraph) in 2018’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, British soprano Soraya made her ENO debut in 14/15 as Edith in The Pirates of Penzance and has since appeared in numerous roles for the company including Love (Orpheus and Eurydice), and Yum-Yum (The Mikado) in the 19/20 season.

Joining the production for their first roles as ENO Harewood Artists are British bass William Thomas and New Zealand born Samoan baritone Benson Wilson, who take the respective roles of Colline and Schaunard. These roles are shared with New Zealand born Samoan bass Jonathan Lemalu and British baritone Ross Ramgobin.

This will be the first ENO Drive & Live, details about further plans to bring drive-in opera to audiences across the country will be announced soon.

ENO Drive & Live’s La bohème opens on Saturday 19 September 2020 in the grounds of Alexandra Palace for 15 performances: September 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 at 15:30. September 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 at 19:30.

The dress rehearsal is at 14.30 on Saturday 19 September.

Tickets for cars (including Uber Boxes) carrying up to four people cost £101.50 plus £2.25 booking fee. Tickets for bicycles cost £36.50 plus £2.25 booking fee. Ticket prices include a £1.50 restoration levy for Alexandra Palace.

Uber is the official partner of ENO Drive & Live.

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