"From terrorism, invasion and despair through to miracles, enlightenment and joy, two millennia of history, four centuries. of (opera)....... reveal the unique ability of opera to convey what it is to be human" .... a good summary of the English National Opera's 2014 2015 season. Sixteen productions, eleven of them new, from Monteverdi Orfeo to another world premiere by a British composer. ( Don't forget Julian Anderson's The Thebans on Saturday). Along the way, Henry Purcell's The Indian Queen, Verdi Otello, The Girl of the Golden West, The Mastersingers of Nuremburg, John Adams The Pirates of Penzance. The Queen of Spades and much more. A season with lots of varety, and even an opera for children. Getting the very young involved, is a good idea - it's done a lot in mainland Europe.
Even more interesting is what the announcement reveals about the ENO's financial strategy. Contrary to the negative flak in the media, the ENO expects to end the year with a surplus, following better than expected box office sales, Attendances were up 11% over the previous year, while the average finamcial take per performance rose by13%. Some nights, there was standing room only (Madam Butterfly, The Magic Flute) and Peter Grimes, Rodelinda and Rigoletto ran 77% capacity. Audience capacity rose by 7% to 76%. That's still much lower than the ROH where the house is often within 5% capacity, but the comparison isn't really fair since the ROH audience is very different. Overall audience was 182,242
Martyn Rose's first full year as Chairman of the Board at ENO has seen ventures like Opera Undressed do well. A total of 1800 seats were sold for Opera Undressed, some within minutes, as with The Magic Flute, . Of those who booked for Opera Undressed, 28% booked for further performances. The Secret Seat scheme where you pay £20 on the chance of getting something much better has done well - many of my friends have been delighted at getting dress circle seats at a quarter the normal price. Very nice, but it's a system which can't really be extended too far, unlike Opera Undressed, which targets first timers and charges more.
The ENO's HD screening of Peter Grimes was the highest grossing UK screening ever for an opera by a British composer - pity it was ruined by transmission problems as it took place on the night of the worst storm all winter. HD broadcasts are expensive and risky (even ROH doesn't make huge profits) but the ENO will be doing five broadcasts in 2014/15, some overseas. Three safe bets - Otello, La Traviata and Carmen (vindicating Calixto Bieito) but more imaginatively, The Pirates of Penzance and The Long Way Back Home, the newly commissioned opera for children. These latter are perhaps more significant because they're aimed at audiences who wouldn't otherwise come to "formal" opera, and extend the ENO's reach to new potential markets. The Long Way Home sounds wonderful - might it be the surprise hit of the season?
The "national" in ENO has always been a joke, but this year, the ENO is working with the Old Vic Theatre in Bristol, the oldest purpose built theatre in the country. Perhaps the ENO's Bristol Orfeo will be as successful as the ROH's L'Orfeo at Shakespeare's Globe. It's a good connect between performing space and work, and extends ENO outside London. It's wise, too, that the ENO, like the ROH, is cultivating relationships with other organizations. Alliances with other houses, of around the same size and eclecticism as the ENO spreads costs and reduces risk. No-one stands alone in this business. The ENO is also starting an interesting partnership with UCL, the university which has been mounting rare operas for over 60 years.
Peter Sellars has been appointed "Director in Residence" which hopefully means his staging of John Adams The Gospel According to the Other Mary which was not well received at the Barbican despite being conducted by Dudamel. More fun maybe with Purcell The Indian Queen, a joint venture with Teatro Real Madrid. Edward Gardner conducts the Mastersingers of Nuremburg and The Queen of Spades. The "9/11" opera is Between Worlds, composed by Tansy Davies, about a man walking a tightrope between the Twin Towers.
ADDENDUM : yet again the media seizes on a relatively minor issue and blows it out of proportion. It's not essential that people who write about opera need to know anything about it, but it would be nice if some could just comprehend the wider issues ? No, the ENO is not switching to music theatre, it's just giving Michael Grade and Michael Linnit a space for them to do new work in the summer. Music theatre done well can be good, and might bring in new audiences for opera. Besides, if ENO makes money out of Linnit and Grade, why not ? It's not like they're handing the place over and paying him for the privilege. qv the South Bank and Alex Ross.