The Young Vic has had success with its own community operas, including Tobias and the Angel which reopened the Southwark landmark last October after its two-year, £12.45 million rebuild (See News, 12 Oct 2006). But next spring, it will be dipping its toe deeper into operatic waters by collaborating with English National Opera on two new productions of contemporary works by living composers, both staged in the Young Vic’s 500-seat, semi in-the-round main house.

Lost Highway, which will have its UK premiere on 5 April 2008, is by avant-garde Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth with a libretto by Neuwirth and Nobel Prize-winning playwright and novelist Elfriede Jelinek, adapted from David Lynch’s 1997 cult film. In the words of Lynch, the psychological thriller is “a meditation on the mysterious nature of identity”. The opera, Neuwirth’s second, premiered at Austria’s Graz Festival in October 2004. It’s directed by Diana Paulus, making her UK directing debut, and designed by Riccardo Hernandez with video design by William Forsythe, best known for his work with the Wooster Group.

Then, on 19 April 2008 at the Younv Vic, theatre director Daniel Kramer (Bent, Angels in America) makes his opera debut with a new production of Harrison Birtwistle’s 1968 one-acter Punch and Judy, which has a libretto by Stephen Pruslin.

Meanwhile, back at its London Coliseum home, ENO will dip its toe once again into more mainstream musical theatre. After this summer’s return of On the Town, which has its press performance tonight (23 April 2007), the company will round off the 2007/8 season with another of Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway classics, Candide - though this one promises to be far more controversial than the ‘sailors on shore leave’ musical comedy.

Voltaire’s 1758 literary satire follows the eponymous hero Candide on a series of mishaps, throughout which he clings to his optimistic tutor Pangloss’ belief that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. In his 1956 comic operetta, with a libretto by Lillian Hellman, Bernstein used the story to comment on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s then ongoing communist witch hunts. In 1974, Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim revised the piece, heightening its farcical elements for their times.

Canadian director Robert Carsen has updated it again, with completely new dialogue, for this controversial new staging. Described as “a deadly political and social satire”, it’s aimed at the US from the 1950s to the present, lampooning worldwide contemporary political figures along the way. In one scene (pictured), Tony Blair and George Bush, along with Vladimir Putin, Silvio Berlusconi and Jacques Chirac, are seen dancing drunkenly on a beach in their underpants.

Candide is a co-production with Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where it premiered last year, and Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. It was due in Italy this past January, but the run was cancelled following a reported censorship row between Carsen and La Scala. The production, starring Toby Spence in the title role, is designed by Michael Levine and choreographed by West End and Broadway veteran Rob Ashford, making his ENO debut. It opens at the London Coliseum on 21 June 2008.

ENO’s ambitious new season, covering the period from 29 September 2007 to July 2008, is announced at a time when the company is undergoing mass redundancies and threatened funding cuts. Candide, Lost Highway and Punch and Judy are three of a total of 11 new productions in the schedule. There will also be fresh stagings of the operas Carmen, The Coronation of Poppea, Aida, The Turn of the Screw, Lucia di Lammermore, The Merry Widow, Der Rosenkavalier and St Matthew Passion, as well as revivals of The Magic Flute, Madam Butterfly and The Mikado.

- by Terri Paddock