ENO News

David McVicar returns to English National Opera to direct a new production of Medea by Charpentier, starring Sarah Connolly in the title role.

Opening Friday 15 February, 7.00pm (9 performances)

Following critically-acclaimed productions of Agrippina, La clemenza di Tito and Der Rosenkavalier, Sir David McVicar returns to English National Opera to direct a new production of Charpentier’s rarely-performed operatic gem, Medea. McVicar is one of the world’s most in-demand opera directors and recently received a knighthood in the Queen’s Jubilee birthday honours. McVicar’s new production of Medea follows on from the success of ENO’s 2011 production of Rameau’s Castor and Pollux which was awarded an Olivier Award.

Playing the barbarian sorceress Medea is internationally renowned mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly. Connolly’s association with David McVicar stretches back to ENO’s 2006 production of La clemenza di Tito, where she played the role of Sesto, for which she won an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera. More recently, Connolly has performed in McVicar productions of Agrippina and as Octavian in Der Rosenkavelier, “[Connolly]…could hardly be better” (Daily Telegraph). Connolly has been nominated for a TMA Award, two Grammy Awards and won an Edison, Gramophone and South Bank Award.

Teaming up with McVicar is celebrated designer Bunny Christie, making her ENO debut. ENO’s new production of Medea relocates the famous Greek tragedy to the 1940s, setting it against a decadent, hyper-stylised 1940s backdrop which McVicar describes as “styled to within an inch of its life”. Set designer Bunny Christie has worked extensively for the National Theatre, most notably winning Olivier Awards for her work on A Streetcar named Desire and The White Guard and an Evening Standard Award for Baby Doll. Christie’s opera work includes Brief Encounter and Tosca for Houston Grand Opera. Medea marks Christie’s debut at a British opera house.

Leading the ENO Orchestra is period performance specialist Christian Curnyn. Curnyn’s recent appearances at ENO include Julius Caesar where he was praised for his “superb direction” (The Times) and Castor and Pollux “[Curnyn]…relished every moment of the score” (The Guardian).

Completing the creative team is choreographer Lynne Page and lighting designer Paule Constable. Page’s choreographic career includes works for stage, opera, film and television with artists as diverse as Kanye West, Stephen Sondheim and Lady Gaga. In 2010, Page won a What’s on Stage award for her choreography in the West End production of La Cage aux Folles. Multi-award winning lighting designer Paule Constable has worked with McVicar in productions of Der Rosenkavalier and La clemenza di Tito and won Olivier Awards in 2005, 2006 and 2009 and Tony Awards in 2007 and 2011.

Connolly is joined by a stellar British cast, including Jeffrey Francis (Jason), Katherine Manley (Creuse), Roderick Williams (Orontes), Brindley Sherratt (Creon), Olivier Dunn (Arcas), Sophie Junker (Italian Woman) and ENO Harewood Artists Rhian Lois (Nerine) and Aoife O’Sullivan (Cleone).

Medea opens at the London Coliseum on 15 February for 9 performances – February 15, 20, 22, 28 and March 6, 8, 12, 14 at 7.30pm and March 16 at 3.00pm

Pre-performance talk, Wednesday 20 February, 5 – 5.45pm, £5/£2.50 concs


12 April – 20 April 2013 at the Barbican Theatre (7 performances)

Sunken Garden (WORLD PREMIERE)

Composed and directed by Michel van der Aa (Grawemeyer award-winner 2013 Libretto by bestselling author David Mitchell

Conducted by André de Ridder

ENO’s WORLD PREMIERE of Sunken Garden combines live performance with one of the first uses of 3D film in opera to tell the story of the mysterious disappearance of individuals who find themselves in a limbo world between life and death. Composed and directed by Michel van der Aa, with a libretto by bestselling author David Mitchell.


1 June –28 June 2013 (9 performances)

The Perfect American (UK PREMIERE)

Composed by Philip Glass      Directed by Phelim McDermott

Conducted by Gareth Jones

UK PREMIERE of Philip Glass’s new opera The Perfect American, a factional story about Walt Disney during the final years of his life, directed by Phelim McDermott and starring Christopher Purves.


Hastings Philharmonic Choir

Each year we wonder if we will all meet again the following year in St Mary-in-the-Castle for the annual carol service and, so far, we have been able to do so. Current plans look promising and hopefully things will continue to improve, with increasing numbers of events returning to this venue, which is an essential part of the cultural life of Hastings.

There was an even better reason for rejoicing this year as the choir have a new musical director. His linguistic skills may not be as fluent as those of previous MDs but which of them could have turned to sing the tenor solo for O Holy Night at the drop of a hat and done so with such mellifluous charm. As a result Marcio da Silva has now set himself a standard which will require a solo from him each year, and audiences will surely not allow a performance to go by without one. His handling of the choir was as assured as his singing. Relaxed and positive, he communicated a level of enthusiasm which radiated from the stage. Opening with a brightly focused Gaudete and a bouncy Up good Christian folk, the concert moved through a virtually unaccompanied Jesus Christ the apple tree to two John Rutter settings, his own Candelight Carol and a familiar arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Between these and our own contributions we heard two extended interludes from Inspiratus Brass, a young and highly professional ensemble who know how to entertain as well as maintain high musical standards.

Hopefully we will not have to worry where we meet next year, and in the meantime we have a promise of Bach’s St John Passion on 6 April and a summer concert on 15 June. More details from www.hastingsphilchoir.org.uk  BH

1066 Choir & Organ

Park Road Methodist Church, 11 December 2012

Julius Weeks led the Come and Sing Carols evening and delightful it was. One never quite knows what one is in for when Julius is in charge and this evening was no different. Along with a goodly range of familiar carols, we also sang White Christmas and Julius played We’re walking in the air alongside Bach’s Nun komm der Heiden Heiland.

Carols ranged from A great and mighty wonder to O come all ye faithful, and of course included the Sussex Carol. Park Road Methodist have acquired the organ from Battle Methodist Church on long term loan while their own church is being rebuilt. It sounded very good, dare one say almost better than it did in Battle! Hopefully it will encourage the congregation at Park Road to find an organ at least as good as this when it returns to Battle to its new home.

But the most interesting feature of the evening was the readings Julius had found. There was a distinctly subversive version of The night before Christmas and an equally diverting The night after Christmas. He had also found the background to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which proved illuminating. The story was written in under three months and at the author’s insistence was reasonably priced to enable all readers’ access to it. Though he made virtually no profit from the story it greatly enhanced his reputation and as a result he became the authorial figure we still revere today. When so many readings and film versions fill our schedules at this time of year it was a valuable reminder of its history. BH

The next meeting is on Tuesday 8 January at Hastings Unitarian Church, when members are invited to provided discs or DVDs of their favourite organ music – Desert Island Organs.


Solomon’s Knot: Messiah


St John’s, Smith Square, 8 December 2012

This was announced as a chamber Messiah, but the dynamic impact was anything but. Drawing on nine young singers, all of whom are soloists in their own right, who were able to form the most cohesive and mellifluous of choral sounds, would have been impressive enough by itself. When one then realised that the performance was being sung from memory, with the narrative drive of a closely argued operatic text, the impact was overwhelming. Tempi never felt rushed but the seamless continuity from one piece to the next led to long stretches of development which can too easily be missed in performances which allow for shuffling and coughing between items, to say nothing of rearranging singers and instrumentalists.

Following eighteenth-century practise, the group have no conductor, and in this case not even their regular keyboard player, as David Wright was a last minute substitute at organ and harpsichord. This requires a far closer rapport than is normal even in chamber ensembles, and it was fascinating to watch the amount of eye contact between all on stage to ensure that they were not only together but making the subtle changes in dynamic and tempi which bring musical lines to life.

Singing some choruses a capella was not only justified but made musical sense. The hushed sensitivity of And with his Stripes flowing through All we like Sheep to close down to a reverential the Lord hath laid upon him was very moving.

Natural trumpets are always a problem even for accomplished soloists so it made sense to split the solo part across two performers. I recall many years ago being at the first performance of Basil Lam’s edition under Charles Mackerras where it took about six breaks before we could get to the end of The Trumpet shall sound so difficult was it for the trumpeter at the time.

It seems almost invidious to name individual singers under these circumstances but tenor Thomas Herford and counter-tenor Michal Czerniawski were particularly impressive and Zoe Brown was radiant in I know that my Redeemer liveth.

There was a well focussed essay in the programme drawing attention to the theology which lies behind Jennens’ word book, which was printed in full, together with the scene titles which make sense of the structure. Messiah is heard so frequently it can become just another winter event. When it is presented like this, a performance which strips away the religiosity to reveal the spiritual heart of the work, we can only be thankful that there are musicians around with the integrity to challenge us. Long may they do so. BH

Garsington Opera 2013

7 June – 11 July 2013

7,9,15,19,22,25 June, 1,6 July 6.20pm


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Conductor William Lacey  Director Daniel Slater  Designer Francis O’Connor


Norman Reinhardt, Rebecca Nelsen, Mark Wilde, Susanna Andersson, Matthew Rose


8,10,16,20,26,28 June, 4,10 July 5.45pm



Gioacchino Rossini

Conductor David Parry  Director Edward Dick  Designer Robert Innes Hopkins


Darren Jeffery, Paul Nilon, Siân Davies, Caitlin Hulcup, Christopher Diffey, Richard Dowling

 23,27,29 June, 2,5,7,9,11 July 6.35pm


Engelbert Humperdinck

Conductor Martin André, Director Olivia Fuchs, Designer Niki Turner


Claudia Huckle, Anna Devin, Yvonne Howard, Sophie Junker, Ruth Jenkins, Susan Bickley. Sophie Junker

Trinity Choir


Garsington Opera at Wormsley General enquiries 01865 361636


Brighton Festival announces Michael Rosen as Guest Director for 2013

Brighton Festival is delighted to announce that the 2013 Guest Director of Brighton Festival is the celebrated poet, writer, broadcaster and previous Children’s Laureate

 Michael Rosen.

Brighton Festival – three weeks of unrivalled arts celebration across the city ofBrightonandHove– will take place from 4 – 26 May 2013. Full programme details will be announced on Wednesday 27 February 2013.

Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Dome & Festival said, “We are delighted to welcome Michael Rosen on board as Guest Director for 2013. For the past five years we have invited a Guest Director to bring their knowledge and experience of the arts to this Festival, which has helped us to nurture and grow an extraordinary range of art and ideas appealing to our local, regional, national and international audiences. For several decades Michael Rosen has entertained, educated and moved audiences of all ages. He has the infectious energy of a polymath and is curious about and interested in everything – perfect for such an eclectic and wide-ranging festival as ours. I am looking forward to another fantastic Festival here inBrighton.”

Michael Rosen said, “It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to be involved with Brighton Festival. It’s exciting but it’s also going to be a challenge! I am a great believer in festivals – they are an informal college of the arts for everyone. There’s been a big change since I was a child when the arts were tucked away in theatres and galleries and Brighton Festival takes cultural activity and brings it to many different audiences across a whole city.”



Thursday 30 May to Sunday 2 June 2013

Ludlow Assembly Rooms

The fifth triennial Ludlow English Song Weekend, under the artistic direction of Iain Burnside, will run from 30 May to 2 June and will include a wide range of English songs in nine recitals by some of the country’s leading singers. There will be premieres of works by Julian Philips and Brian Elias and performances of two previously unpublished works by Finzi, written for baritone and organ. The weekend will be packed with events including Master Classes, Young Musicians Recitals, talks, films, discussions and performances by the winners of the national young composers’ competition.

Events take place in the elegant Assembly Rooms as well as the Parish Church in this beautiful border town, where A.E. Housman’s ashes are buried.


The Merry Widow


Royal Festival Hall, 2 December 2012

A packed Royal Festival Hall indulged itself in a matinee Merry Widow that more than lived up to expectation. It is surprising, given the continuing popularity of the work, that it is not a basic component of any of our major opera companies.

What made the afternoon slide by so easily was the new narration written and performed by Simon Butteriss. A consummate performer in his own right, his story telling was done in character which provided a bridge between the action and the audience without the constant need to step in and out of character. Added to which it was witty and pointed without being over contemporary in its allusions.

This might have carried the afternoon by itself but the singing was universally high, with Claudia Boyle’s Widow more glamorous than one might hope for, and a voice which found no problems with the often high tessitura. Daniel Prohaska was somewhat too smooth as Danilo and one would not give much hope to their relationship surviving for very long, despite the warmth of the waltzes. Alan Opie was a delight as Count Zeta, allowing things to pass under his nose without letting it upset his enjoyment of life. As the young, would-be, lovers Sarah Tynan and Nicholas Sharratt brought some needed tension to the story and hinted at the relationship which Lehar was to explore in The Land of Smiles.

The Philharmonia Orchestra and Voices under John Wilson were in fine form. How good it is to hear Lehar with a full orchestra and chorus, rather than the more conventional pit bands of the amateur circuit. John Wilson has an increasingly secure reputation for mounting operetta and musicals with quality forces, and in doing so demonstrating the quality of the works which is too easily overlooked. Hopefully there will be more like this. BH

Welsh National Opera: Bristol

27 – 29 November 2012

Reviving productions can obviously be fruitful for any company but there may be hazards running a season entirely based on them. Katie Mitchell’s highly dramatic and passionate reading of Handel’s Jephtha has made a strong impact since its first showing almost ten years ago and in the hands of revival director Robin Tebbutt still makes an excellent case for staging what is, after all, an oratorio.

The emotional complexity of the work means that our sympathies shift as the story unfolds, but on this occasion it was the arrogance of Jephtha himself, in his refusal to ask for help or clemency on the part of his innocent daughter, which came over most clearly. The anger and understandable lack of forgiveness from Storge at the end was never in doubt as the men return to what they do best, running the world, regardless of the emotional turmoil they have caused around them.

Robert Murray made a reliable if not necessarily likeable hero, his rendition of Waft her angels one of the few moments we felt real sympathy for him. Fflur Wyn’s Iphis has been a key feature of this production and her combination of innocence and nobility, together with a beauty of tone and musical line, carries all before it. On this occasion she was partnered by Robin Blaze as Hamon, suitably gauche at the start but eventually caving in to the driven masculinity around him. Only Diana Montague’s distraut Storge stands out against the demands for Iphis’ sacrifice, but what is one female voice in so masculine a world. This may not have been the way the Georgian audience would have read the work but today it makes its case with authority and bite.

Thomas Blunt, on the one time in this run he was due to conduct the work, made the most of the shallow pit and there was fine continuo work from Mark Packwood on harpsichord and organ. At the end the cast showed their appreciation of Thomas Blunt’s handling of the evening – it is never easy taking over at the end of a run.


I have to admit I did not enjoy Benjamin Davis’ production of Cosi fan tutte when it was new last year and its vulgarity has only been slightly tempered in revival. Quite why anyone should think this an adequate presentation of Mozart’s sensitive masterpiece is beyond me. Allowing central arias to be up-staged by comic business can only be accepted if there is a water-tight dramatic reason for it. Here, time and time again, it seemed to be that the director was afraid of his material and refused to allow it to sing for itself. Thankfully much of the singing was convincing, even with two late changes to the cast. Steven Page made a cynical and aggressive Don Alfonso, in league with a charming Despina from Joanne Boag who learns all too late just how nasty a world she has got herself involved in. She is a fine comic actress, and under other circumstances could have made the part far more impressive. Maire Flavin dropped into Dorabella with flair and a voice which found no difficulty with Mozart’s demands. That she was asked to emote wildly and flamboyantly was not her fault. Elizabeth Watts’ diminutive Fiordiligi was all fire and attack but gave us one of the few reflective moments of the whole evening with a fine Per pieta. Gary Griffiths’ Guilielmo enjoyed himself as an over-the-top Redcoat but Andrew Tortoise’ Ferrando, though accurate, was emotionally flat and uninvolved.

In the pit Mark Wigglesworth took a brisk no-nonsense approach which, under the circumstances, was probably wise. I hope this is the last we see of this staging. WNO and Mozart both deserve better.


The rapid return of Annabel Arden’s production of La boheme was far more welcome. Its simplicity and courage to trust the work itself makes for a convincing evening on every level. Stephen Brimson Lewis’ design work and Sam Hunt’s videos allows the emotional ebb and flow of the work to be supported without being overwhelmed. How good to see act two without feeling the need to round up every extra in Cardiff and throw in animals and brass bands for good measure. For once we were able to concentrate on the protagonists and their rapidly unfolding relationships. After two lengthy evenings prior to this I was struck again by just how short La boheme actually is and how succinctly Puccini moves us on. Casting from strength, the students are physically convincing as well as having the vocal strengths for the part which, if short, is also demanding. Alex Vicens and Giselle Allen were well matched as Rudolfo and Mimi, but I particularly enjoyed the more wayward, and adult, relationship of David Kempster and Kate Valentine as Marcello and Musetta.

Andrew Greenwood cosseted his forces in the pit, allowing it to overflow where necessary but never milking the score for simple sentimentality.

This was a strong way to end the season, and made it easier to overlook the night before. In the Spring we are off to a better start with a new production of Lulu and revivals of a fine Cunning Little Vixen and Madama Butterfly. www.wno.org.uk/