Attending the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre for the first time last night, I had a sense that the outdoor, natural setting would make it difficult for other productions of Britten’s opera to compete. This is a collaborative project with the English National Opera (ENO), in hope of introducing dedicated members and regular attendees of the Open Air theatre to opera. And in many ways it succeeds.
Review by Tony Watts
The relationship of totalitarian regimes to the arts is malign, politicos wanting to neuter them, fearing freedom of expression as a direct threat to their control of the populace and its communal thought process. Censorship of work, persecution of its creators and campaigns branding it as degenerate are as common in contemporary dictatorships as they had been previously in the dark days of Nazi Germany. The cabaret scene in the Weimar Republic was anathema to the German reactionaries of the time, as Stefan Zweig observed: ‘amid the general collapse of values, a kind of insanity took hold of precisely those middle-class circles which had hitherto been unshakeable in their order.’ Young ladies proudly boasted that they were perverted; to be suspected of virginity at sixteen would have been considered a disgrace in every school in Berlin.’ A 1938 exhibition, Entartate Musik, was mounted by propagandist Hans Severus Ziegler to demonstrate how necessary it was to ban this music, describing it as ‘Un-German’ as it was Jazz-influenced and written by Jewish and black composers: ‘Effigies of wickedness’. It was in this atmosphere of repression that a body of work was created which is explored in a lively collaboration between English National Opera (ENO) and the Gate Theatre, currently enjoying a run at the tiny West London venue until June 9.
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.
Canadian costume and set designer Michael Levine has worked in a variety of prestigious theatres and opera houses internationally for more than three decades. He created the original set designs for Robert Carsen’s production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is currently being revived at the English National Opera (ENO), London Coliseum. I spoke to Michael (on the first day of Spring) to discuss the inspiration behind his work; the usage of the green and blue colours, the symbolic relationship between the world, Tytania and Oberon, as well as the floating beds on the ENO set. He also shared his experience of a dramatic transition within design over the course of his career and gave an in-depth account of the role of a set designer.
Lucky number three. Three ravishing productions have been performed at the London Coliseum from the English National Opera’s (ENO) Spring 2018 programme. It seems that the quality of the ENO’s productions are proving consistent and worth complimenting. The third of which I saw on its press night (on Thursday) on a week that had been heavily affected by snow storms and Siberian winds under the alias ‘The Beast from the East.’ Luckily for the audience inside the London Coliseum, it was warmer and rosier with its sweet and playful portrayal of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It’s hard to forget an opening night like that. I’m no stranger to the most recent Gilbert and Sullivan (G&S) productions at the English National Opera (ENO). That’s predominantly down to the intoxicating stage and costume designs, which are usually littered with wit and humour.>>>
Returning after two years is Mike Leigh’s inimitable production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, which is notably stronger in direction and performance compared to its first outing. It didn’t make the cut for some critics who complained about its cavernous and abstract staging for the London Coliseum’s large theatre, which has a capacity reaching 2,350. That said, this is the same production that took more than £600,000 at the UK box office, with roughly 40,000 viewers, when it was screened in cinemas for a one-night showing. I know, go figure.
After some past disappointments, what are we to expect from Mike Leigh this time round? Firstly, Sarah Tipple directs this revival, yet the same designer Alison Chitty is here to stay. The simple, fluorescent, blind-your-eyes shades aren’t leaving the ENO just yet, however, this doesn’t seem a problem when the performers have great voices and provide something unique and wacky to their characterisation. After all, this is the comedy writings of W. S Gilbert.
The ENO has revived an original Jonathan Miller production that took flight in 1982 – it received rave reviews regarding its unique and authentic stage work. Back in 1982, Miller’s innovation came from shifting Verdi’s original 19th century Italian Renaissance setting to the 1950s, a world of organised crime and gangster mafia. For Miller, a familiar and relatable reality, fuelled by betrayal, lawlessness, and murder, confirmed how equally disturbing and dark Verdi’s opera is.
Various accounts from those who saw it back then spoke kindly of Miller’s artistry, however, after seeing it at the Coliseum, revived by Elaine Tyler-Hall with designers Rosemary Vercoe and Patrick Robertson, whatever magic they saw then didn’t seem present here. Perhaps for the 1980s this was a novelty, but after three decades, where stage directing has clearly evolved, this may not seem so new to a contemporary audience. Nevertheless, there are some extraordinary moments and performances to take away from this revived undertaking.
This is the third time I’ve seen Penny Woolcock’s visually stunning production of The Pearl Fishers and I still haven’t got tired of it. English National Opera has brought its original showing of Bizet’s less successful opera (first premiered in Théâtre Lyrique, 1863), compared to his passion-raged opera, Carmen, back for the London audience, which has some small amends that make for a less messier outing.
I first saw the ENO production in 2014, with singers George von Berger, John Tessier and Sophie Bevan who sung with heartfelt tendency and poignancy, yet I was concerned about the loud, distracting noises which took place behind the main stage. Then it was at the beginning of the year that I caught up with Metropolitan Opera’s HD Live screening with superb singers; Diana Damrau, Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien: obviously an incomparable experience. For one, the Met have a larger budget; commissioning 59 Productions to coordinate visual projections, and implementing airplane machinery for acrobats to emulate diving pearl fishers, searching for pearls in the ocean. Secondly, there’s the camera direction that brought audiences closer to the lead singers’ facial expressions, making the viewing experience far more sophisticated and intimate.>>>
Many opera lovers know that there is much luscious music to discover with Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. The climactic love-death song that is Liebestod (otherwise known as Isolde’s Verklärung), the glorious intensity of the score alongside the romantic verse written by the German composer himself are a few reasons, out of many, as to why it is considered a landmark opera which has influenced music history. Not forgetting the tragic story where two lovers down a love potion which leaves them stuck in a world they cannot exist together in.
The English National Opera (ENO) last staged Wagner’s visceral opera twenty years ago, yet its newly appointed artistic director Daniel Kramer has introduced a new production with grand designs by award-winning contemporary artist Anish Kapoor – the man who designed the Orbital Tower at the heart of the Olympic Park and controversial sculptures for the French palace of Versailles.