Theatre News

ENO makes musical theatre commitment, Mike Leigh directs Pirates of Penzance

Fresh ideas and intriguing projects as English National Opera recalibrates itself with an enterprising new season

Mike Leigh directed 1999 Gilbert and Sullivan biopic Topsy Turvy
Mike Leigh directed 1999 Gilbert and Sullivan biopic Topsy-Turvy

English National Opera's newly-announced 2014-15 season includes several bold initiatives, while production highlights include a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance directed by Mike Leigh.

The major new development, explained by artistic director John Berry at this morning's launch, is an economically worthwhile decision to "claw back" some Coliseum rental time (those weeks when visiting companies pitch camp in the magnificent old variety theatre) in order to stage an annual musical.

This is not new territory for ENO, whose previous record in musical theatre has been patchy at best, but the difference this time is the recruitment of some professional expertise to strengthen the package. Michael Grade and Michael Linnit may not be the first names in West End producing, but their finger is on the commercial pulse so another Kismet-style fiasco is unlikely.

At the moment, though, musicals are merely a flag that’s being flown. No specific projects have yet been announced, although the caboose of the new season will have sure-fire popular appeal when Mike Leigh directs Pirates next year. Leigh, who helmed the G & S biopic Topsy-Turvy in 1999, is the latest big name film director to work at the ENO following in the footsteps of Anthony Minghella and Terry Gilliam.

Opera on the road, Gardner bows out

ENO will be on the road for no fewer than three new productions this year, including a visit to the Bristol Old Vic for a new production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by Tom Morris plus newly-commissioned works by UK composers Tansy Davies (Between Worlds at the Barbican) and Joanna Lee (a children's opera, The Way Back Home, to be directed by Katie Mitchell at the Young Vic).

It’s a gradual but welcome continuation of the company’s recent progress towards new work that’s both English and national, early fruits of which have been the current season’s Powder Her Face and Julian Anderson‘s imminent epic The Thebans, which opens this Saturday under Edward Gardner‘s baton.

Gardner, ENO's outgoing music director, will bid farewell next season with three high-profile new productions: Verdi’s Otello (starring Stuart Skelton) and Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, both directed by house favourite David Alden, plus arguably the season’s stand-out event, an importation of Richard Jones‘s celebrated production of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, a staging originally mounted by Welsh National Opera.

Jones also directs Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West, too long absent from the main London houses (although it has recently been done by Opera North and will soon be seen – in the original Italian – at Opera Holland Park), while maverick director Peter Sellars will undertake two projects: the world theatre première of John Adams‘s new opera, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, and a rare staging of Purcell’s The Indian Queen starring Lucy Crowe.

Heading a strong roster of revivals, Nicholas Hytner‘s acclaimed 1985 staging of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) makes a welcome return, as do Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in the admired Fiona Shaw production, Calixto Bieito‘s controversial Carmen, Peter Konwitschny‘s drape-heavy truncation of Verdi’s La traviata and – perhaps inevitably – Jonathan Miller‘s 1930s update of Puccini’s La bohème, with rising stars Angel Blue and David Butt Phillip as the unhappy lovers.

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