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Stuart Skelton lays into ENO (and Opera Australia)

February 16, 2017 by norman lebrecht

28 comments.


Two blasts from a lacerating Bachtrack interview with the sought-after Australian Heldentenor. 

On English National Opera:

‘They’ve got a new artistic director calling Janáček fringe repertoire. It’s the rep that’s built that house’s reputation! Jenůfa and Káťa Kabanová – that’s the stuff that ENO does better than the Royal Opera.

‘I love ENO so much but what’s their plan? I don’t think Cressida Pollock is malevolent but I think she’s out of her depth. And I firmly believe that, as personable and as engaging as Daniel Kramer is, he should not be running that company. He’s the wrong man for the job. Not only is he not experienced but the only times he’s been in something genuinely large scale, it fell over. There’s a level at which he’s also irretrievably American and all the optimism on the planet won’t actually get you over the line if the product is poor. In Tristan there were so many ideas, but the amount of time it took to shed those ideas when it was clear they weren’t going to work took way too long. The artistic director of the company can’t put their foot in their mouth that often and get away with it. I think it’s a shame because he’s a personable guy who totally means well, but I don’t think he has any clue long term what ENO means to its audience and that audience has been slowly but surely bleeding away.’

You are one of the most celebrated Australian opera singers, yet I look at our Opera Australia listings and you’re not there.

‘No sir, I’m not. How many times can you do Gale Edwards’ Bohème? Four times in six seasons? And it’s not selling any more. The subscribers aren’t going back because they’re getting the same stuff over and over and over again. Okay, they’ve increased ticket sales but they’ve increased ticket sales to My Fair Lady. I understand that it’s paying the bills and that’s terrific but I have a massive problem with any opera company that’s collecting government subsidy for something that’s commerically successful. Are they giving that part of their subsidy back? Not likely! That’s a travesty.

‘There’s no way they can justify laying off this wonderful ensemble of singers who form the absolute heart and soul and guts of the company, put them all on part-time contracts, then fly in every second-rate singer from anywhere to sing stuff when we’ve got people in Australia who sing those roles just as well.’

Full interview here.

 


Comments (28)

  1. Alexander says:

    Have never heard about him. This gentleman should be really out of the box to judge so critically .

    1. Lawrence Kershaw says:

      Never heard of him? This season alone he’s in Munich, Paris, the Met, Bergen…!

      1. Alexander says:

        good for him then 😉 … probably all those wonderful sopranos he was supporting with his singing were quite pleased to work with that man ….. really didn’t hear, I usually pay more attention to women-singers, cause almost all operas are built around soprano voice…. beg my pardons .

      2. Peter says:

        I’ve heard him in London and Paris.
        A major artist.
        I take notice of his judgemen.

    2. Will Duffay says:

      He’s a huge name in opera. You really should either have heard of him, or keep quiet and acknowledge your ignorance.

      1. Alexander says:

        tastes differ 😉 one possesses convergent thinking another one – divergent , the point is how to see at things 😉 … I’m not pretending to be the smartest kid on this music block ( deleted) blog – who are you to judge ? 😉 … this is democracy – everyone has the right to say one’s opinion unless to show disrespect 😉

        1. Mike Schachter says:

          It used to be normal practice that if you did not know an artist you did not comment on their work? I don’t see that democracy has much to do with that?

          1. Alexander says:

            I commented on his words, not work – please pay attention to that small difference 😉 mind your manners, gentlemen , Peter is the only person here to show the real intelligence and decency ….

        2. Una says:

          There’s no need to justify yourself or get at the rest of us. Any consummate musician would make an effort to get to know major people in the music world, whether they like them or not, and so have an informed opinion. It’s not about taste, it’s about education and forever developing as a human being and a listener of opera. Not berating the rest of us. No one is expected to know every single person in the music and there is more to opera than major people supporting sopranos! Go and do some homework!

    3. Una says:

      Well, Alexander, you need to do some serious homework before you make comments like this and the one later.

      1. Alexander says:

        Ladies first – beg my pardons, I forgot to apply divergent thinking – Ladies last , Una 😉
        you are the first from the end … cheers , beautiful soprano 😉

  2. John Purbeck says:

    ENO should worry when such a fine artist makes these considered and trenchant criticisms of its plans.

    1. Una says:

      Well said. ENO at least needs to listen to someone who’s heart is right in the middle of mainstream opera and a fine, much in demand singer.

  3. Simon Bloggins says:

    Oh wow! How to stab yourself in the back and offend a lot of people along the way. Who’s his PR?

    1. David Osborne says:

      Simon, in this day and age people should be able to express an opinion free from the fear that it might effect their career in a negative way. Performers, creators and audiences- we’re all stakeholders in this artform and all glory to Slipped Disc for giving everyone a voice. With the exception of spin doctors and PR people. They can shut the F up.

    2. B Bailey says:

      A fine artist, a great Grimes and Siegmund and a fine Tristan. But he’s certainly burned some bridges. But, hey, that means he’s more available to other houses.

    3. Una says:

      Simon, do you know what you’re talking about here? What’s the anger about?

  4. Halldor says:

    Wonderful artist, and his outspokenness is brave in this business, but wonderful artists aren’t always the sharpest knives in the drawer (remember all those distinguished singers during Dumpygate, declaring that “opera is only about singing! Everything else comes second!”).

    In this case, his comments about Wagner subtract a lot of credibility from what he has to say.

    1. David Osborne says:

      Yes I agree, Wagner could have done with an editor (wasn’t that Hanslick’s claim?) in much the same way as Janaček needed someone to correct his orchestration. As in, not at all. Hands off please…

    2. Vladislav says:

      While it is brave to ‘speak up’ in this business, and I agree with all of the stuff that he says (especially about aus) I don’t think he realises how lucky he is that he can say all this stuffand still maintain a career. Most singers would say ‘I mildly dislike X person’ and lose their chances of making a career for ever- let alone speaking about real problems like this, or the hideous epidemic of bullying and sexual harassment in the arts.

      While I agree with these sentiments, most Australian singers have to sit and take the crap from the big name companies in Aus lest they never perform again. It is far less brave for him to say it.

  5. David Osborne says:

    Interesting if you read the article’s comments section OA come out swinging in self defense. I’m sure King Roger will be amazing and many people will go, but the rest of the Spielplan for this year is a snore.

  6. Interested Party says:

    Bravo, Stuart. Top bloke, and spot-on criticism. Unfortunately only artists whose career is as assured as Stuart’s can afford to speak with such honesty, but it’s a long time overdue that someone at ENO listened.

  7. Marg says:

    I cant comment on his ENO comments but as an Aussie opera goer I (and many of my friends) would endorse his Opera Australia comments 100%. We watch our superb singers troop off to European houses and have successful careers because they cant get work here, while we listen to singers from Europe who are, as he says, considered 2nd rate. The fact that I live in Sydney and have to fly interstate to hear Skelton, Jessica Platt and others because OA wont employ them, is completely infuriating and ridiculous. Im glad he has raised his voice, but under the current OA leadership its not about to change.

    1. David Osborne says:

      Marg did you see OA’s response in the comments section of the main article?

      1. Marg says:

        No – thx for pointing it out. Id hazard a guess teh 94% figure for principals is this season. If find it hard to beleive that is a general figure across the last five years for example. And while the Opera House may be full for La Boheme, many of those seats are tourists wanting to attend something in the Opera House – is it also full in Melbourne when OA stages there? I dont have a prob with tourists flocking to La Boheme, but is OA selling subscriptions and building its opera-going base in Australia?

        1. David Osborne says:

          Yes indeed, I agree that there’s a fair degree of spin in that response and I also find it interesting that they felt a need to respond in such a fashion at all.

  8. David Boxwell says:

    The ENO needs him more than he needs the ENO.

  9. Vladislav says:

    While it is brave to ‘speak up’ in this business, and I agree with all of the stuff that he says (especially about aus) I don’t think he realises how lucky he is that he can say all this stuffand still maintain a career. Most singers would say ‘I mildly dislike X person’ and lose their chances of making a career for ever- let alone speaking about real problems like this, or the hideous epidemic of bullying and sexual harassment in the arts.
    While I agree with these sentiments, most Australian singers have to sit and take the crap from the big name companies in Aus lest they never perform again. It is far less brave for him to say it.


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