Irish screen and stage actress Fiona Shaw (pictured) – who, amongst numerous prizes in her career to date, won this year’s Whatsonstage.com Best Solo Performance Award for Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days at the National (See WOS Award Pics, 25 Feb 2008) – will make her opera directing debut at the London Coliseum this winter.

Shaw will direct a new version of Irish playwright JM Synge’s one-act drama Riders to the Sea, set to the music of the late English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, as part of English National Opera’s newly announced 2008/09 season. Synge’s 1904 tragedy centres on Maurya, who has lost her husband, father-in-law and five sons to the sea.

Shaw and her creative team – including theatre designer Tom Pye and Irish artist Dorothy Cross – have interpreted the story using film shot on the original setting for the play, the Aran Islands, where, Shaw says: “the inhabitants of this land, which lies geographically on the edge of eternity (the Atlantic Ocean) are also psychologically on the edge, because every potential hazard could be fatal. They seem to be resigned, just waiting for nature to take over; nature just screams in through an open door.”

The new operatic version follows ENO’s 2006 production of Vaughan Williams’ Sir John in Love and resumes the exploration of the composer’s work on the 50th anniversary of his death. Richard Hickox conducts. Riders to the Sea premieres on 27 November 2008.

ENO will also re-team with the Young Vic next spring for a second season of “ENO at the Young Vic”. To celebrate the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth, Katie Mitchell will direct a newly created, multimedia music theatre piece centred on Dido and Aeneas, with the same team behind her National Theatre plays Waves and Attempts on Her Life: set and costume designer Vicki Mortimer, lighting designer Paule Constable, video designer Leo Warner of Fifty Nine Productions, movement director Struan Leslie and sound designer Gareth Fry.

Mitchell’s as-yet untitled production will star Susan Bickley as Dido and will premiere at the Young Vic on 15 April 2009. This year’s inaugural “ENO at the Young Vic” season continues this weekend with Daniel Kramer making his opera debut directing a new production of Harrison Birtwistle’s 1968 one-acter Punch and Judy in the Young Vic’s main house (See News, 23 Apr 2007).

Other theatre talent crossovers in ENO’s new season include: director Jonathan Miller staging La bohème, his first new production for ENO since 1996; playwright and Billy Elliot book writer and lyricist Lee Hall writing a new version of Pagliacci; Improbable Theatre’s Julian Crouch designing Doctor Atomic; and the return, for an incredible 13th time, of the 1988 production of The Magic Flute directed by Nicholas Hytner, now NT artistic director.

The ENO 2008/09 season, sponsored by Sky Arts, runs from September 2008 to July 2009 and comprises ten new productions – several of them premieres – and five revivals. Announcing the plans, ENO artistic director John Berry, alongside chief executive Loretta Tomasi and music director Edward Gardner, commented: “ENO audiences expect real innovation and diversity from us. We are confident this new ENO Sky Arts Season will satisfy their sense of adventure and also attract new audiences.”

- by Terri Paddock