English National Opera 2018/19: from Puccini to 'Porgy and Bess'
A new opera based on the Jack the Ripper story puts the women in the foreground in a season that questions male power
Porgy and Bess is one of five new productions at the Coliseum, in a season that opens (28 Sept) with a challenging new production of Richard Strauss's alarming Salome. One of the operas featured in the V&A's Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition, and a landmark in musical history, Salome features Scottish mezzo-soprano Allison Cook in the title role, and is directed by Adena Jacobs, who has forged a reputation for re-examining classics from a female viewpoint.
'What's really interesting and tragic about Salome,' she said as the ENO season was unveiled at the Coliseum, 'is that she lives in a world where power is expressed in violent ways.' Patriarchy is a theme running through the season, which continues after Porgy with Donizetti's dramatic Lucia di Lammermoor (nine performances from 25 Oct), in which Lucia (Sarah Tynan) defies male orders.
Using again the gigantic forces of Porgy is a production of Benjamin Britten's powerful War Requiem (six performances from 16 Nov). With words by the first world war poet Wilfred Owen and with design by the Turner Prize-winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, who lives in the East End, the huge work is directed for the stage by ENO's artistic director Daniel Kramer. Soloists are baritone Roderick Williams, tenor David Butt Philip and soprano Emma Bell.
Roderick Williams is the baritone soloist in Britten's 'War Requiem' for ENO from 16 Nov
The fast-rising star soprano Natalya Romaniw – a huge hit at Garsington in 2016 with Roderick Williams in a five-star Eugene Onegin and in Grange Park's 2017 Jenūfa – makes her ENO debut as the seamstress Mimì in Puccini's La Bohème (15 performances from 26 Nov). Jonathan Tetelman sings Rodolfo, with whom she falls in love before a falling-out that only her mortal illness can resolve. The production by opera veteran Jonathan Miller is stylishly set in 1930s Paris.
Also returning to the Coliseum is Philip Glass's expansive opera inspired by Ancient Egypt, Akhnaten (seven performances from 11 Feb). The counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo plays the otherwordly pharoah of the title in a collaboration with physical theatre company Improbable. Karen Kamensek, one of three women conductors (out of nine) this season, is a specialist in Glass's minimalist music which ENO music director Martyn Brabbins describes as 'hypnotic', and which, he says, 'comes at quite a cost to the musicians who perform it'.
Simon McBurney's production of Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' is packed with charm. Photo: Robbie Jack
Next comes a new production of Franz Léhar's comic opera The Merry Widow (12 performances from 1 March), in which the newly wealthy widow of the title is no longer reliant on a man for her creature comforts, but finds that money does not necessarily buy romance. Another comedy, Mozart's The Magic Flute follows (nine performances from 14 March) in Simon McBurney's very charming and beautiful production.
The season ends with the most controversial production of the whole season: a new opera entitled Jack the Ripper, but subtitled The Women of Whitechapel, to reflect composer Iain Bell and librettist Emma Jenkins's emphasis on the East End women whose hard lives were taken or changed by the anonymous murderer. The cast features many of ENO's most-loved soloists, including soprano Lesley Garrett and tenor Nicky Spence. The six performances from 30 March are sure to get a reaction. Watch Culture Whisper for more details of this and all the ENO shows.
Booking for English National Opera 2018/19 packages – book two more more operas at once and get a reduction – opens 10AM, Tuesday 15 May. Booking for single operas opens 10AM Tuesday 22 May. Click here for more details and booking. Tickets cost from £12. There are concessions and also reduced-priced Secret Seats for £30.