Tuesday, 10 May 2016

ENO 2016-17: a half-good season

It came as a bit of a shock to see the full list of English National Opera productions for the coming season and realise, as one blogger put it, that the ones you'd heard promising rumours about amount to just about all there is. This is what the reduced schedule looks like in practice, and it's not right for a national opera company. Another commenter pointed out that it's chorus-lite: none for Lulu or Partenope, a big Te Deum in Tosca, the least good bits of The Pearl Fishers, very little in Don Giovanni, men only in Rigoletto. No Britten or Tippett. In fact no opera on the big scale for which ENO was made. The only familiar works offering much chorus presence are The Pirates of Penzance (photo of Mike Leigh's production below by Tristram Kenton) and The Mikado, the latter touring to Blackpool in what looks like a patronising gesture to The Regions (English Touring Opera serves there, of course). Of course if Miller's dazzling-white production turns more people on to opera, so much the better.

Only compare this with Opera North's far more enterprising season: much the best of the major companies from my perspective: plenty for the chorus to do in Billy Budd (men only plus boys, but what choruses), Suor Angelica (women only, but smaller roles, too), The Snow Maiden (oh, if only we got it down here!) and Turandot.

The unknown quantities at ENO are the new operas. Daniel Schnyder's Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD at the Hackney Empire gives us the promise of a very fine American tenor, Lawrence Brownlee - though as everyone is well aware it's time to balance transatlantic visitors with building up a UK-centric ensemble of soloists again. I wouldn't put much money on Ryan Wigglesworth's The Winter's Tale from the few full-scale works of his I've heard - and when I saw him conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he was the second worst non-maestro I've seen there or anywhere else (the worst has to be China-approved Long Yu). How ironic when he bears the same surname as Mighty Mark, one of the world's BEST conductors. I hope, of course, for better on both RW fronts.

The forthcoming Don Giovanni I had the huge pleasure of learning more about at Lilian Baylis House (pictured up top; it's in West Hampstead, a hell of a cycle from West Kensington) when I interviewed Richard Jones, our only visionary opera director (let's say it again in case the message hasn't sunk in), and the wholly delightful and natural Christine Rice (singing Donna Elvira, one of our great three homegrown mezzos - Sarah Connolly and Alice Coote being the other two). This was a selective event for patrons and would-be patrons, and I think we had fun. The period will be, if I remember Richard's words aright '1946-2007' (very specific!), a closed society, deeply religious like the original Spanish milieu.

Richard is giving DVDs to the cast at the first meeting - I forget some of the choices, but Clive Bayley, the Leporello, is getting Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy, which may well be referenced (a certain freeze-frame of Robert De Niro's character greeting Jerry Lewis in a car was mentioned - the two pictured below in another scene). Christopher Purves's protagonist will have no redeeming features about him. RJ recalled a narcissist he met on one ill-fated venture overseas - no naming of either here, for obvious reasons.

It will be Richard's first major Mozart - he took on a Cosi for Scottish Opera during his trainee years at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, but recalls it with horror. Funny that both Christine and Richard think Cosi tougher than Don G to pull off (I've seen at least three good productions of the former, only one so far of the latter - Deborah Warner's at Glyndebourne). The problem with Don G, our director finds, is how to keep the flow, especially in the second act where you have to hear both Don Ottavio's 'Il mio tesoro' - Don O will not be a wimp, since he's being played by Allan Clayton - and Elvira's 'Mi tradi'.

I imagine Mark Wigglesworth, working with RJ for the first time, will not make that feel a problem, to judge from his pace-perfect Magic Flute. Heading off tonight to hear another who, I'm sure, will keep Flute lively in concert - the inspiring Ivan Fischer, whose Budapest Festival Orchestra has just had its municipal budget cut by three quarters. And we think we have problems with the philistines here in London...

In the meantime, one piece of good news for next season: Ivo van Hove, my new-found hero, is back for three Toneelgroep Amsterdam spectaculars at the Barbican next season, as well as Hedda Gabler at the National and an opera which I can't mention scheduled for a later Royal Opera season. I'm delighted that Toneelgroep's Roman Plays, which I didn't see first time round, will be back, and while I lament missing out on their Scenes from a Marriage, another Bergman-scripted double, of After the Rehearsal and Persona, looks very promising indeed.

Richard Jones had been to see Kings of War, not sure whether on my ardent recommendation or not, and loved it, especially the take on Henry VI (another image from designer Jan Versweyveld, von Hove's long-term partner, shows a bespectacled Eelco Smits surrounded by Janni Goslinga's Queen Margaret, Fred Goessens' Cardinal and Robert de Hoog's Suffolk). Why did they all seem so real, I asked? Because, he said, they've  mostly worked with van Hove since they were 18, and because KoW had a six-month rehearsal period. Utopia in the theatre, if the talent and genius are right.


Susan Scheid said...

I am sorry to be so late getting over your way. Things our way have been umm a bit distracting, to put it mildly. It's a shame about ENO, and horrible about the Budapest Festival Orchestra cuts, too. I did laugh on guessing, when you noted who was second worst, that the worst non-maestro you'd name would be Long Yu, and oh, do I second that from my one exposure. No more of that, for sure. Thought of you last week, too, particularly, when at Carnegie Hall to hear Yefim Bronfman perform Prokofiev's War Sonatas. I won't soon forget it, and his encore was such a lovely counterpoint: Schumann's Arabeske Op. 18, which sent me off to listen to more Schumann piano music for a couple days.

David said...

You mean with the politics? Brilliant article today in The Guardian by Jonathan Friedman about 'post truth' soi-disant politicians like Trump and Boris Johnson; the more they lie and the more people laugh at it, the higher their ratings go. Time, as Friedman put it, for interviews to play it absolutely straight-faced and not fall for the supposed 'charm' (which I've long ceased to see in BoJo).

Here in Prague we are in something of the same fantasyland - coming back for the first time in 26 years is a real shock. Everything in the sizeable centre for the worst type of tourism. I call it Eurotrash/cosmotrash, J calls it Potterville (as in It's a Wonderful Life). HOWEVER Ma Vlast tonight from the Czech Phil and superb Paavo Jarvi was such a revelation in every bar that any niggling resentments vanished. And we've been loaned a very beautiful, airy apartment in Josefov so not complaining about that either.

Bronfman has always been a superb Prokofiev interpreter - indeed, I probably heard the Sixth Sonata live from him. Not seen enough in recent years, though. He did 6,7 and 8 in one programme? He sure has the stamina.

Susan Scheid said...

Yes, politics. Obama gave a superb speech to Howard graduates, and among the many points he made, and how disturbing that it was necessary to make it, was that this was not a reality show. Sad to hear about Prague. I realized some years back that we'd missed the opportunity to see it before it had been worked over by thoughtless tourism, though how wonderful to hear a wonderful performance and to be able to stay in pleasant quarters. Re YB, indeed, what stamina! And not just getting through it, but playing with clarity and fire from the first note to the last. (Grella, on New York Classical Review, did a wonderful job of describing the performance.) Prokofiev's imagination was on fire as well. What magnificent works each of these are!

David Damant said...

It is some years since I was in Prague ( I visited quite a few times from 1968 onwards)but there one point which may still be relevant. Some places such as the central halls of the castle were nearly empty, as was the further half of the Cathedral,and one or two other places, and it was explained to me that the package tours saved money by not paying the relevant entry fees. Also the drinking crowds were not interested.

The castle rooms are of tremendous interest. Here the Holy Roman Empire was run for many years, and here was the window which was defenestrated twice. Also in the little side rooms ( originally sealed up) were the machines which communicated with and took orders from Moscow, until communism collapsed. One Czech after freedom worked out where the machines must be and sent a message. "Wow " said the Russian at the other end " we did not think you would be so quick at finding us"

David said...

Sue, is that speech available online? I've heard Obama say this before - he's always the best at it. Those aren't just among Prokofiev's deepest works, they're also to my mind the best piano sonatas of the 20th century. Good to know you have a New York Classical Review...

Sir D, we will be up at the Castle this morning, hearing the Glagolitic Mass in St Vitus at a service for the 700th anniversary of Charles IV, so afterwards we'll see where we can go that isn't packed. Apparently the crown jewels are on display for the occasion, but I imagine that'll be a bunfight. I found a few quieter streets in the Stary Mesto yesterday that weren't packed - you can't move even en route to the Charles Bridge - and went inside St Jilii for peace and quiet. Bethlehem Chapel was also peaceful. Sorry to be pedantic, but can you defenestrate a window rather than a person out of it?

David Damant said...

I think that fundamentally defenestration means that the window was smashed. So my wording and your wording were equally not quite exact. There was a third when Jan Masaryk was thrown out of a window of the Czernin Palace after the war

David said...

Still being pedantic, defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. Read only today on the way back from Policka how disturbed Martinu was to learn that Masaryk had just 'died' after the war and didn't believe it. He never went back, of course; simply couldn't. His mother and his best friend both died in his long absence - one of many heartbreaks.

Jan Kucera said...

Defenestration: in an excerpt from my OED on this topic:

'The act of throwing out of a window.

'Defenestration of Prague, the action of the Bohemian insurgents who, on the 21st of May 1618, broke up a meeting of Imperial commissioners and deputies of the states, held in the castle of the Hradshin, and threw two of the commissioners and their secretary out of the window; this formed the prelude to the Thirty Years' War.

'1620 Reliq. Wotton. (1672) 507 A man saued at the time of the defenestration.

'defenestrate (usually joc.) to throw out of a window.'

Masaryk: From the viewpoint of physics (a discipline called forensic mechanics), the detailed evidence (gathered by normal criminal police investigators, before the communist secret police took over) shows without any reasonable doubt he was murdered.


David Damant said...

I believe that in the case of the two earlier defenestrations ( or one of them, not Masaryk) the guys were saved by a pile of manure lying beneath the window.

Jan Kucera said...

Yep. So I learned at school. Martinic and Slavata survived.


Not so in the First Prague Defenestration (1419).