Over recent years I have breakfasted with several chairman and chief execs of English National Opera, trying to persuading them to relax the company’s founding purpose of singing only in English. My reasoning was, in 21st century conditions, irrefutable.
ENO prides itself as a people’s opera. When London was monoglot, it sang in English. But London today is multicultural and has large cultural communities – half a million Poles, for instance – to whom English is, at best, a second language.
The Coliseum, where ENO moved in the 1970s, has a very deep stage and the words tend to get lost i singers are no well to the front. The present generation of singers has also lost the old technique of clear articulation. The house now has surtitles. Why reduce great opera to cod-English, when the original is superior and the words can be read, bright and clear, above the proscenium?
There is no case to answer. All I was told was that it would never get past the board – change the board, I said – and in any event could not be contemplated while George Harewood was alive. The Earl of Harewood, cousin to the Queen, was strictly ancien régime where use of language was concerned. Sadly, George died last month.
Now, in this week’s Lebrecht Interview, ENO’s music director Ed Gardner, comes cautiously round to my point of view, as the Independent reports.
“I wonder if in a few years we might possibly look at doing an original language opera,” he ventures. “There is something lost – I’m not going to deny. It’s a compromise. The allure of the language, especially Italian can get a little bit lost, and you’re hopefully replacing it with something more immediate.” He suggested breaking the ice by doing Ariadne in two languages – comedy scenes in English, the opera itself in German.
This is slow progress, but progress nonetheless. The Little England policy makes no sense at all in 2011.
On other matters, Eton-educated Ed tackled his prevalent image among some orchestral players as Tory Boy conductor and talked frankly about having to deal with a tabloid frenzy over a break-up in his private life. The Lebrecht Interview is tomorrow at 9.45 pm.