Friday, 29 April 2016

New Artistic Director ENO - what lies ahead ?

Just announced, many long months after the departure of John Berry, the new Artistic Director of the ENO - Daniel Kramer.    The ENO press release emphasizes "The appointment was made by a panel of ENO Board Members chaired by Harry Brunjes, including Louise Jeffreys and Anthony Whitworth-Jones. The views of members of the Orchestra and Chorus and the senior artistic team were also taken into account. Daniel was unanimously chosen as the exceptional individual from a very strong field of candidates".They probably need a show of unanimity in these troubled times. 

The Chairman of the ENO Board,  Harry Brunjes, says "This marks a turning point in the Company's history as we move towards a new approach to planning seasons and reaching out to new audiences in London and indeed throughout the country."  Kramer himself says "My intention is to ..... inspire audiences night after night with a thrilling programme of musical diversity, attracting audiences from opera to operetta through to popular music. We will work, too, with the wider community outside the Coliseum, to develop emerging talent and new audiences. We are here to play and sing for you."

Hmmmm.....what does that really mean? Popular music? Leaving the Coliseum? What about the ENO's tradition of cutting-edge innovation ? Or any commitment to new English-language opera ? Will the ENO become yet another small-scale company presenting safe and bland "family" entertainment in sub sub West End venues. As I've written so many times, it is short-sighted to sacrifice the unique nature of the ENO for short-term expediency.  Unfortunately, arts policy in this country bears no relation to the realities of the arts as part of the economy. This lack of basic business nous, with its petty-minded parochialism, spells death for creativity. Read my piece Solutions for the ENO: vision not pettiness

What will any Artistic Director be able to do against this background of small-minded philistinism ? Kramer's first essay with the ENO was Birtwistle's Punch and Judy at the Young Vic.  The  brashness of that production worked fine because the opera  depicts puppets obsessed with mindless destruction.  There are deeper undercurrents in the work, but usually lost beneath the shock value.  His other work in mainstream opera was Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle  in 2009, part of a double bill with an very dull Rite of Spring.  Kramer's Duke Bluebeard's Castle wasn't Bartók's, but Josef Fritzl's. I don't at all mind free adaptations but this oversimplified the fundamentals of the opera. Read my review here

There's nothing wrong with sensationalism per se,  as long as it has artistic and musical basis, but how will that square with the new constraints the ENO seems fated to adopt ?  Kramer directs the new Tristan und Isolde, which starts at the ENO in June.  But an Artistic Director does more than direct.   Will Kramer have the vision to create a genuinely interesting new profile for the ENO?  Operetta isn't the way to go. It may appeal to audiences determined to divest opera of intellect, but as Chabrier's L'Etoile at the ROH showed, operetta doesn't work in a big house.  Operetta does need wit and flair.  Remember the disastrous Die Fledermaus in 2013 ? So maybe the way ahead is musicals and showtime tat.  Will the Coliseum return to its music hall origins?  Many have much to gain from that. But not those who care about opera as art. 


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