ENO: Britten War Requiem

Britten: War Requiem
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 16 November 2018

English National Opera has a record of performing Benjamin Britten operas, as well as creating operas from the Bach Passions and other choral works, so it was no surprise that they would turn to Benjamin Britten’s famed War Requiem. As with the Bach Passions, when I first saw them staged, I was a little apprehensive as to what I was to see. Just how would they stage a work with such vastly contrasting moods and scenes, combining the heart-wrenching poems of Wilfred Owen and the words of a traditional Latin Requiem Mass? Britten himself accented this contrast by giving the two male soloists who sing the Owen poems their own chamber orchestra, to be positioned closest to the audience and with its own conductor. The Requiem settings are for a large chorus and orchestra and a soprano soloist, together with boys choir and accompanying organ which are to be situated some distance away from the main orchestras.

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ENO: Salome

Richard Strauss: Salome
English National Opera, Martyn Brabbins, Adena Jacobs
The Coliseum, 3 October 2018

In a production that veered from My Little Pony, via Lolita, to the Texans Chainsaw Massacre, there were two clear winners: the music of Richard Strauss, given a superb reading by Martyn Brabbins and the Orchestra of English National Opera, and mezzo Allison Cook in her strangely compelling and insightful interpretation of the complex role of Salome – a role and ENO debut. Usually depicted as the archetypical seductive femme fatale, for most of this production, directed by Adena Jacobs in an ENO debut, she seemed far more like a confused, hormone-ridden teenage girl, becoming increasingly fragile, delicate, and in need of protection. Perhaps I was viewing it through the mind of a father, rather than a voyeur, but it was an incredibly powerful image. Her first appearance was as a black-clad, demanding and confident long-haired princess arguing to see the imprisoned Jokanaan. As events unfolded, she mutated into a slight and vulnerable bare-breasted child-woman in minuscule schoolgirl gym knickers and with makeup smeared all over her face.

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ENO: Partenope

Handel Partenope
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 22 March 2017

Partenope is an entertaining, if over-long, venture into cross-dressing, disguise, sexual and political intrigue and, at least in the original 1730 production, some impressive special effects, including a battle that employed a stage army. The story is a slight, but attractive one, with scope for drama, betrayal, intrigue, humour and sexual goings on.

Partenope is the Queen and mythological founder of Naples, who legend believes was also one of the Sirens who attempted to lure Odysseus onto the rocks. She has three admirers: Arsace, Armindo and Emilio. As the opera opens, her favourite, Arsace, is surprised to see his former lover (Rosmira) turn up disguised as a man (Eurimene). As a man, Eurimene becomes a rival for the Queen’s affections whilst, as a women and only recognisable to Arsace, she proceeds to mock and goad Arsace to the extent that the Queen demands that they fight a duel. Arsace, wanting to reveal Eurimene’s true identity, demands that they should both fight topless. Unfortunately for the dirty old men in the audience, Eurimene gives in at this point and reveals herself as Rosmira.

This was the first revival of Christopher Alden’s 2008 production. It is set in 1920s Paris around the complex interconnected lives of surrealist artists and the exotically (and erotically) wealthy. Continue reading

ENO: Tristan and Isolde

Tristan and Isolde
English National Opera
Coliseum. 22 June 2016

On the eve of the EU in-out referendum, it seemed appropriate to see English National Opera’s take on Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in which, in a post-Brexit world, Tristan fails to get the correct Visa to land in Ireland and is further delayed by his attempts at getting a Visa to allow Isolde to travel back with him to Cornwall, and then by having to negotiate a new formal trade agreement for transferring Princesses between an EU state and the ex-EU Cornish republic. The collapse of the cooperative EU policing and health agreements means drugged-drink crime goes unpunished and everybody dies in the end.

Or something like that. Continue reading

Philip Glass: Akhnaten

Philip Glass: Akhnaten
English National Opera
The Coliseum. 4 February 2016

What a lot of balls! For those expecting yet another press tirade about an English National Opera production (although very rarely from me), I stress that I use these words absolutely literally. For, in this powerful staging of Philip Glass opera, jugglers were a key part of the staging, courtesy of the Gandini Juggling Company whose director also choreographed the opera. It was directed by Phelim McDermott of Improbable Theatre Company and conducted by Karen Kamensek, an expert on the music of Philip Glass, making an excellent ENO debut.

As the name suggests, Glass’s Akhnaten explores aspects of the story of the historical Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaten (note the different spelling), Continue reading

ENO: The Magic Flute

Mozart: The Magic Flute
English National Opera
The Coliseum.  19 February 2016

What a different three years makes! I was rather dismissive of the first run of Simon McBurney’s 2013 new production of The Magic Flute, together with his theatre company Complicite in partnership with Netherlands Opera and Aix-en-Provence.  This was the first new ENO production of The Magic Flute for around 25 years, and replaced Nicholas Hytner’s much-loved, if rather traditional take. My review of the opening of McBurney’s version included “In contrast to the previous production, this Magic Flute is dark, mysterious and more than a little weird. A flood of ideas drenched the stage, aided by a commentator sitting in a box in the corner, chalking up comments onto a large video screen. But there seems, at least to me, on first sight, little coherence to link it all together. Masonic references are played down, but the element of cult is still stressed through colour-coded camps in conflict . . . It may well be that, in 25 years time, I will miss this production.  But, in the meantime, it will certainly take me some time to get used to it”.

Well, having now seen it for a second time, with revival director Josie Daxter (also from Complicite) and a new conductor, ENO’s new music director Mark Wigglesworth, and with some tweaking to the staging, I am happy to admit that I was bowled over by it. A radical take on the well-known, if little-understood plot, the Continue reading