Details have been announced for the opening productions of English National Opera's 2008-09 season, providing a broad range of repertoire including new productions of Cav and Pag, Handel's Partenope and, in his anniversary year, Vaughan Williams's rarely-heard Riders to the Sea. Two UK premieres add contemporary spice to the season - John Adams' Doctor Atomic and Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de loin - while in more traditional fare, Peter Rose will take on the title role in an important new production of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Susan Gritton will star in a new production of Cosi fan tutte .
Zandra Rhodes's colourful production of Aida, which opened late last year to popular if not universal critical acclaim, returns in October with Claire Rutter reprising the title role alongside John Hudson and Iain Paterson . The bulk of the run, which starts on 22 October, will be conducted by Gérard Korsten. There will also be a revival of Jonathan Miller's classic production of The Barber of Seville (22 September to 10 October) with a cast that includes Anna Grevelius singing her first Rosina, Gary Magee as Figaro and Andrew Shore as Dr. Bartolo. Rory McDonald will be in the pit.
The season opens on 20 September, though, with a new production of the evergreen verismo double bill. Geraint Dodd will sing Canio in Pagliacci opposite Maria Plazas as Nedda. The rest of the cast for Leoncavallo's opera is completed by Christopher Purves as Tonio and Mark Stone as Silvio. Jane Dutton will sing Santuzza in Cavaleria Rusticana opposite Peter Auty's Turiddù and ENO Music Director Edward Gardner conducts Richard Jones's production; the designer is Ultz, of the ill-fated ENO production of Kismet fame (interestingly, musicals are conspicuously absent from the season).
Gardner will also be leading Tim Albery's new production of Boris Godunov (in the seven-scene version), which runs for nine performances from 10 November. This will be a showcase not only for Peter Rose, one of the country's finest basses, but also for a large ensemble cast which will include John Graham-Hall as Shuisky, Brindley Sherratt as Pimen, David Stephenson as Andrei, and Jonathan Veira as Varlaam. Vaughan Williams, who is also being featured in his anniversary year at the Proms, will have his Riders to the Sea, an opera based on Irish playwright J.M. Singe's play of the same name, treated to a rare outing. ENO are fielding a quality cast for this performance led by Patricia Bardon and Leigh Melrose. The production, directed by Irish actress Fiona Shaw, will be conducted by Richard Hickox and opens on 27 November.
An excellent cast will also be on hand for the new production, by Christopher Alden, of Handel's Partenope. Rosemary Joshua sings the title role and is joined by Patricia Bardon, Christine Rice, Iestyn Davies and John Mark Ainsley. Christian Curnyn conducts the five-week run which opens on 9 October.
In February, Jonathan Miller returns to ENO to direct a new production for the first time in twelve years. His treatment of La boheme will star Alfie Boe. Later that month, Peter Sellars comes to direct his Met production of Doctor Atomic, which will star Gerald Finley as Dr J Robert Oppenheimer. In April 2009, ENO returns to the Young Vic to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with a multimedia project by Katie Mitchell. Christian Curnyn conducts and Susan Bickley stars. Interestingly, ENO and the Royal Opera House will once more be staging the same piece within a short space of time, following on from the two productions of Punch and Judy which have recently been taking place in London.
Back at the Coliseum, May will bring a new production of Britten's Peter Grimes, as recently announced in our interview with Amanda Roocroft, who will play Ellen Orford. Gerald Finley will be Balstrode, Stuart Skelton will take the title role and Felicity Palmer makes a hugely welcome return as Mrs Sedley. David Alden will direct the new production. Then on 25 May, Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami's Aix-en-Provence production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte will be staged by ENO, with a cast including Susan Gritton and Fiona Murphy. The season ends with the UK premiere of L'Amour de loin, which currently has no casting or production team details available.
Many of us will be surprised by the return of Nick Hytner's 1988 production of The Magic Flute in January 2009: it had been announced that the autumn 2007 revival would be its last. Nevertheless, the cast is attractive, with Sarah-Jane Davies, Robert Murray and Robert Lloyd singing lead roles. David Alden's Olivier Award-winning production of Jenufa returns for the first time in March 2009, again starring Amanda Roocroft. Judith Howarth also reprises a recent role in June 2009, when she will once more sing the title part in Madam Butterfly, which is being revived in memory of the late director Anthony Minghella. Edward Gardner will conduct and Christine Rice is bound to be an excellent Suzuki.
Several things are striking about the announcement. The number of new productions is high, showing ENO making strong plans under its sponsorship by Sky Arts, and the two UK premieres are particularly laudable. It's good to see core repertoire being renewed, with the new Boris, Cav and Pag and Cosi, and there are some innovative production team choices. But there's a surprising number of gaps in the casting at the moment, so much of the season is an unknown. It's a shame to see Magic Flute, Butterfly and Aida return so soon and with such similar casting; last year the company promised a rejuvenation of their Verdi productions, but there's little sign of that at the moment. And it seems that there's no musical theatre or operetta on offer next year, for better or worse. Yet despite the questions raised by the press release, it's good to see that ENO is still very much alive and fighting, and perhaps their bold plans bode well for their future health.
See also the ENO Website.
By Hugo Shirley
See also our preview of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden's 2008-09 season here.
See also our preview of the Opera national de Paris' 2008-09 season here.
Plus our preview of the Barbican's Great Performers 2008-09 season here.
And read our preview of the London Philharmonic's 2008-09 season here.
Also see details of Welsh National Opera's 2008-09 season here.