Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Fantastic ENO season 2012-2013 TOP PICKS

Fantastic new ENO season for 2012/13! The most adventurous in years, totally justifying the Outstanding Achievement Olivier the ENO received for "breadth and diversity" of its programme. This is such an amazing season. Full schedule on the ENO site here. Not all the goodies are obvious! So, my top picks below, with explanations why.

Walt Disney changed the world.  One of the many highlights of the ENO's fantastic new season 2012-2013 will be Philip Glass's The Perfect American, a surreal exploration of Disney's imagination.  Opera is fantasy, so Disney's a great subject. Since there was a lot more to Disney than cartoons, the story could be good. The production is by Phelim McDermott whose brilliant puppets and set made Satyagraha genius theatre. (Read more about that here and here). Walt Disney the opera won't come round til next June, but book as soon as you can. Tickets will be gold dust.

The new ENO season starts with fantasy, too. Bohuslav Martinů's Julietta, based on the Paris Opéra production which Edward Gardner fell in love with. If it can inspire him like that, it sounds good. It's a gorgeous opera, last heard in London with Magdalena Kožená, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek. (more about it here) Listen to the recordings, and catch the magic. This production's directed by Richard Jones, who won the Olivier Award for best director.

Even more daring - the ENO takes on Ralph Vaughan Williams The Pilgrim's Progress (from 5/11) staged for the first time since its premiere in 1951. It's not an "easy" opera,  and needs a director who understands stylized allegory. The reason that this will be important is the choice of director, Yoshi Oida. Oida is astoundingly sensitive. His Britten Death in Venice was exceptional. (read more here). It ran within a month of the ENO Deborah Warner Death in Venice. Two drastically opposite approaches.Warner's was high on glossy fashion shoot glamour, Aschenbach relegated to the sidelines in every way. Oida's approach was psychological, with Aschenbach foremost, action happening around him and in his mind. Although Aschenbach thinks he's a disinterested observer, in fact, he's caught up in his own fantasies. Oida shows Venice as a mirror of Aschenbach's mind. Claustrophic walls, dank, dangerous waters, a place where everything's nebulous.  Deep in every sense. Exactly the spirit of the music.
Oida was chosen to stage Britten in Aldeburgh because his Britten track record is exemplary. Back in 1989 he stunned Aix-en-Provence with his Britten Curlew River. It's preserved on DVD, watch it if you can. He's an inspired choice for The Pilgrim's Progress, which needs a director who understands stylized allegory. Kill for tickets to this, though it will be nothing like the ENO Riders to the Sea which was so literal the music wasn't able to speak. Oida is spiritually as well as musical astute. If anyone can make The Pilgrim's Progress work as theatre, it's Oida. Martyn Brabbins conducts, another reason why this will be a must.

Calixto Bieito? -- the tabloids might scream. Get past the shock value, for Bieito is a very serious director. In his Carmen (from 21/11) he shows the gypsies as marginalized underclass, utterly relevant to modern Europe. In Barcelona (read what I wrote here), it dealt with migrant workers and the "colonization" of Catalunya by foreigners. In London, the focus will shift to more British concerns. Maybe the tabloids will be right. Incendiary stuff ! But these are issues we can't blank out.  Bizet was right on the mark. What's more, Ruxandra Donose is singing Carmen - she's magnificent.

Even more shocking, Peter Konwitschny comes to London! This will have the tabloid mind set foaming at the mouth, especially as he's directing Verdi La Traviata. "My Traviata", he says in the promo video, "is short". And to the point. Ten years ago he did a Meistersinger that confronted the German audience with the implications of the final act. To this day I remember what Tim Ashley wrote then (find it here). Violetta is a strong personality, as she has to be in her profession, but she also trumps Papa Germont at his own game. There are levels and levels in this opera that are rarely touched. Read what Tim Ashley said of Konwitschny's La Traviata in Graz last year here,

The ENO's always been good with baroque. Christopher Curnyn, who conducted an excellent Rameau Castor and Pollux (review here) last year is conducting Charpentier's Medea ifor the ENO in  February, in a new production by David McVicar. Lots of Charpentier around these days, it seems,  and David et Jonathas (William Christie) features in Edinburgh and in Paris later this year. 

More baroque too - Handel's Julius Caesar (from 1/10) in a "fresh, theatrical" new staging by Michael Keegan-Dolan, who brought us the ENO Rite of Spring. He's a choreographer (hence the ballet) so it will be interesting how he makes a Handel opera move. Strong cast - Lawrence Zazzo, Anna Christy and Christian Cumyns, specialist conductor.

Another adventurous new production, Michel van der Aa's The Sunken Garden, in the Barbican Theatre (not the Coliseum) in April.  It's a joint venture between the Holland Festival , the ENO, the Barbican, Toronto and Lyon. Van der Aa's works have been heard in London several times before, so he's not unknown so much as misunderstood as he mixes music and singing with theatre and film. Pierre Audi respects him highly. Together they did a fascinating concert called Liebestod which creatively re-imagined Alban  Berg's relationship with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin (review here). That was conceptual but not too difficult, definitely worth hearing again. If we ever get the chance! The Sunken Garden is an "occult mystery film opera" with Roderick Williams, who also sang in van der Aa's Before Life at the Barbican (see review here) and will be singing in The Sunken Garden.  Roddy, as he's affectionately known, is grossly undervalued. he's easily the first choice English baritone in modern repertoire (and in other repertoire too - remember his Pollux?

Many revivals like the Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and a new production of Wozzeck in May, conducted by Edward Gardner (no singer details yet). Lots more interesting things to emerge as time goes by.

photos courtesy Getty Images and ENO
photo of Yoshi Oida copyright  Victor Pascal
A more formal version of this will appear soon in Opera Today

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