Written by Thomas Joy
Daniel Kramer’s first season at the English National Opera (ENO) was always going to be bold, and it feels as though the ENO are a perfect fit for Kramer and his vision for the company.
At his introduction to the season on 1st May, Kramer came from a day of press interviews as enthusiastic and passionate about his debut season as ever, and what a season it promises to be. The newly announced 2018/19 season brings five new productions and four revivals to the stage of the London Coliseum, where the ENO are celebrating 50 years of residency this year.
These productions have key commonalities: empowerment, representation and a review of masculinity in opera. In his speech to the room, Kramer demonstrated that the ENO should be, and will be, at the forefront of the ‘Time’s Up’ discussion, using its works to challenge the ‘white male gaze’ of opera by allowing these productions to reflect our world as it is now.
The season kicks off with a ‘bold and radical feminine interpretation’ of Salome, with Australian director Adena Jacobs making her ENO directorial debut, leading an all-female creative team. On Salome, Jacobs writes that by using the perspective of Salome, the production becomes ‘a fever dream, a dark fantasy, and an examination of patriarchal power and control’.
Porgy and Bess then follows, with Proms-favourite John Williams conducting the first staging of Porgy and Bess ever undertaken by the ENO. Harewood artist Nadine Benjamin, playing the role of Clara, treated the room to a haunting rendition of one of the most famous pieces from the opera, ‘Summertime’. She’ll be joined on stage by over 40 singers, most of whom are black, and whilst Kramer is proud of the diversity this will bring to the ENO’s stage, he’s keen to point out that this is by no means tokenistic, he is determined that diversity become a fundamental part of ENO’s identity.
With 2018 marking 100 years since the end of the Great War, Kramer and his Musical Director Martyn Brabbins then join forces to present Britten’s War Requiem, in a production designed by Turner Prize-winning German photographer Wolfgang Tilmans. This promises to be a production ‘paying testament to the horrors and contemporary resonances of war’ through a combination of music, drama, and the visual arts.
Speaking with staff at the ENO, it is clear that their commitment to diversity extends beyond the stage, and in working towards a target of a 50% split between male and female conductors, Kristiina Poska makes her pit debut conducting a new production of The Merry Widow. Max Webster’s new productions promises to join a rich history of production that have entertained audiences for over a century.
The final new production of the season is Jack the Ripper. What many might consider an odd choice for a season built upon the empowerment and representation of women, Kramer says that the subtitle is what swayed him: ‘The Women of Whitechapel’. 33 year-old composer Iain Bell comes off the back of two successful new operas in America and Europe to bring this new opera to the ENO. Focused around the lives of the women affected by the violence, Bell and Kramer are keen to explore ‘the women beyond the pictures of their dead bodies’. In a testament to the expected success of this production, the cast include some of the most revered names at the ENO: Dame Josephine Barstow, Susan Bullock, Janis Kelly, Lesley Garett and Marie McLaughlin.
Beyond the new productions, the ENO is also reviving 4 productions: Lucia di Lammermoor, La bohème, Akhnaten and The Magic Flute. With several Olivier Awards behind these productions already, the ENO’s new season is packed with opera for everybody.
And it’s that everybody that the ENO, and Daniel Kramer, are keen to involve. In his recent interview with The Times (click here to read the interview), and indeed at the season launch, Kramer stresses that he wants the ENO to truly be the English National Opera, taking its productions beyond the ‘institutionalised wooden doors’ of central London, through Zones 1-6 and out to the country itself. In Summer 2019, they are working with two London companies to bring two new productions to theatregoers that might not have otherwise considered opera: Dido, a co-production with Unicorn Theatre, reimagining Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas for young audiences, and Noye’s Fludde, a co-production of Britten’s work with Theatre Royal Stratford East.
With the passion and talent of its new management team, the 2018/9 season builds on the brilliant work already done by the ENO to encourage engagement and promote accessibility, and it makes a statement: opera is for now, opera is for everyone, opera can be a driving force in the discourse of politics, gender, sexuality, race, inclusion, exclusion, and ultimately, humanity. And that is itself, surely, the very point of opera.
Check out the ENO’s new 2018/19 season on their website here.
Thomas Joy is a theatre-lover and musician. Follow him on now Twitter:
(Header Photo: Nadine Benjamin singing ‘Summertime’ at the ENO season launch at The Library, London © Thomas Joy.)