English National Opera 2016/17
English National Opera reveals new productions and commissions alongside plans to perform in smaller venues
Dramas backstage at English National Opera have threatened to eclipse the great stories unfolding onstage, but a bold new programme for Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017 promises a happy ending – at least to the act currently being played out.
A new Don Giovanni, a new Lulu, a new jazz-based opera and a new opera based on The Winter's Tale are joined by worthy revivals of works as different as Tosca and The Pirates of Penzance.
But perhaps the deftest manoeuvre, as ENO fights for its survival in the face of tight finances and the departure of several high-level executives, is slipping out of the hefty surroundings of the Coliseum and into smaller and more adaptable venues.
So it is that for the first time ENO will head for the jewelbox Hackney Empire in June 2017 to give the European premiere of Charlie Parker's Birdland, in which the jazz saxophonist is played by the American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who created the role in the US when Daniel Schnyder's opera commission for Opera Philadelphia was first performed, in June 2015.
ENO is also playing to its strength with 500 tickets every night at £20 or less, a move that has undoubtedly attracted a lively new and younger audience, and by inviting artists who, again, resonate outside the established opera crowd. These include the artist and director William Kentridge, who directs the new Lulu (9 - 19 Feb), and the director Richard Jones, one of the most radical but dedicated directors on the scene, whose vision of Mozart's Don Giovanni is likely to upset as many people as it delights. Jones has form, but when he is good he is very, very good, and you have to forgive him the duds in exchange for occasional master strokes. Performances are from 30 September to 28 October.
Composer Ryan Wigglesworth's first opera will be The Winter's Tale. Photograph: Benjamin Ealovega
Another breath of fresh air comes with the arrival of the actor Rory Kinnear (pictured top), who will direct Ryan Wigglesworth's new opera, The Winter's Tale. Kinnear, a brilliant all-rounder whose comic timing is matched only by his capacity to suggest menace, vulnerability or pain, has taken s number of important Shakespeare roles, including Hamlet and Iago, and is also a playwright. In Burnt by the Sun (2009) at the National Theatre, he took theatregoers by surprise by playing the piano wonderfully onstage, and he speaks movingly about the importance of music in his life.
"I could not be more thrilled to have been invited to work with Ryan on his debut opera, and at ENO, the place where my love for the art form first took hold," says Kinnear. "I'm giddy with excitement."
He seems ideally placed to oversee an opera based on The Winter's Tale, with its tang of jealousy and regret seasoned with goodheartedness and forgiveness. The cast includes Iain Paterson as Leontes and Sophie Bevan as Hermione. there will be five performances from 27 February to 14 March.
The Pearl Fishers returns to the Coliseum from 19 October to 2 December. Photograph: Mike Hoban
The leaner, fitter season is punctuated with revivals of Puccini's Tosca, containing some of the composer's loveliest and also terrifying music, Bizet's Pearl Fishers, famed for its male duet "Au fond du temple simple",(19 Oct - 2 Dec), Jonathan Miller's mafioso Rigoletto - the aria "La donna e' mobile" is cued up on a jukebox (2-28 Feb), Mike Leigh's jaunty production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance (9 Feb to 25 Mar), and Handel's tender Partenope (15-24 Mar).
Booking opens to the general public on 1 June, and on 25 May for those who buy seats for four or more productions: eno.org.