ENO’s new home?

Rumours are flying around that English National Opera, when it leaves the Coliseum, will decamp to the Roundhouse at Camden.


We’ve established that nothing has yet been signed, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The Roundhouse seats 1,700, has staged work for the Royal Opera and has a young audience who live across north London in residential heartlands that ENO has long abandoned. It’s a perfect place for ENO to start reconnecting with real people.

Your views?

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  • Your headline is misleading. It seems likely ENO will use the Roundhouse as an alternative venue for smaller scale productions but will not be moving out of the Coliseum.

    • My information is that ENO will be moving out of the Coliseum for part of the year. But, as I specify, nothing has been signed, nothing is set in stone.

      • From the Chief Exec’s statement earlier this week: These changes mean that ENO will programme 10 works at the Coliseum and six productions outside of the Coliseum each year by 2019/20. This will enable us to focus on what makes ENO great and allows us to continue to grow, innovate and experiment – this means more new work, chamber work, unusual repertoire, talent development and audience development. We will aim to reach a more diverse audience at more venues across and outside of London and we will become a more flexible organisation and more financially resilient.

        • ‘These changes mean that ENO will programme 10 works at the Coliseum and six productions outside of the Coliseum each year by 2019/20.’

          In which case, your phrase ‘when it leaves the Coliseum’ under the headline is clearly misleading. They are not ‘leaving’, merely going away and then coming back again, just as they have done regularly in the last few years, to mount productions at the Young Vic, Hampstead and elsewhere.

          Perhaps it would be pertinent to ask: when you go for your annual week on the Costa Del Sol or Ibiza, Norman, do you claim to be ‘leaving the UK’?

        • In short, Britten and Janáček, Mozart and Rameau, get booted out of Trafalgar Square so the “prime real estate” can be “utilized” for Wicked, Lion King, Aladdin, Phantom, the occasional miked Aida, Bohème or Carmen, or any new show or act that can “generate revenue streams” commensurate with its value and prove the genius of PwC, Deloitte, EY, KPMG or whichever other consulting firm the board hired.

          • Yes, and not to forget My Fair Lady, King and I and other Bums-On-Seats which for example Opera Australia dishes up year after year. In fact, anything goes, as in Anything Goes, aka Everyone Goes. They hope.

  • I’m an ENO regular who lives in SW, and I’m not a real person.

    Never been to the Roundhouse, so I don’t have an opinion about the potential change. Just a bit more inconvenient to get there, but Camden is nice.

    I only hope that having less seats to sell doesn’t reduce the number of offers that are regularly published to attend ENO evenings.

  • Of course ENO has already experimented with performances in other London venues.

    From 18 years agoonwards it toyed with studio performances at its Lilian Baylis House rehearsal studios (the former EMI studio building) in W Hampstead.

    More recently ENO has given performances at the Young Vic – including Punch & Judy. the Return of Ulysses, Lost Highway, After Dido, and others.

    [I have to say that the “real people” jibe was unfair and unwarranted, Norman? Were all those people at Satyagraha unreal?]

    • Equally, as someone who has regularly attended opera since the age of 12, I resent suddenly becoming a fake person.

      This is the problem with all arts organisations – cf. in particular The Proms – they become so fixated with reaching the mythical ‘new’ audience that they cease to serve the needs of their loyal existing audience, often treating them with great contempt.

      Having said which, I think we need to reserve most of our judgement until we’ve seen the detail of these sixteen productions.

      • I started drafting a reply to NL’s silly reference to “real people” when I realised that you had already covered it, only better.

  • There’s a special prize for anyone who can tell us where the orchestra’s going to be located for mainstream repertory works? Hmmmm???

    [cue a stream of memetic weasel-word twaddle about experimentation, breaking the mold, challenging expectations etc]

    Because once you put a bloody great orchestra in there for Meistersingers or Katya Kabanova, audience seating capacity is going to be knocking 1300. And that’s assuming anyone will actually want to buy the seats next to the trombones, charming chaps and chapesses as trombonists might be…

    Then knock-out all of the current ENO shows which are predicated on use of the Coli’s legendarily magnificent revolve…

    • I have a feeling, if memory serves me right, that the old magnificent revolve was mothballed more than 25 years ago and replaced by the old Green Room (was part of canteen but no longer exists), and that any revolves used on stage at the Coli are installed temporary units.

  • The roundhouse is a great venue for non classical music events but is it really ideal for opera ? I didn’t see the Royal Opera Orfeo here so hopefully I’m wrong but when the RSC and others (a Robert lepage play) have been here they really seem to have struggled to make it work as a theatre mainly because it’s in the round. Whilst I can see it working for Birmingham Opera Company style promenade productions this doesn’t seem to be whats proposed I’m not convinced by it as a regular theatre venue (and I’ve often found the seats really uncomfortable).

    • Working entirely “in the round” is almost impossible in opera, because of the need for the orchestra to be located “somewhere”, usually with the conductor in front of them – and for there to be sightlines between the conductor and the cast members. Yes, a lot can be done by siting tv-monitors around the performance space, so that the cast can get at least an oblique view of the conductor. As you mentioned, Birmingham Opera use that kind of set-up, and it holds the ensemble together, even if it ends up with some very peculiar acoustic balance situations.

      [I was at their OTHELLO, and although it was musically together and very well conducted by Stephen Barlow, lone singers far away from the orchestra feel very little orchestral support in quiet and isolated moments – such as Desdemona’s Willow Song. ]

      In fact the Roundhouse can be (very easily) worked into a thrust-stage format (ie the audience on three sides, but not four), and I have seen shows there which worked excellently in that format.

      The infrastructure still feels very much like a Student Union though (maybe it’s better now? I haven’t been to the Roundhouse for 7-8 years)… but rather smelly and inadequate bogs are also to be found at the carpet factory in Birmingham, and don’t seem to deter the patrons. Having said that, the last time I was at the Coli (last year) there was a very odious whiff wafting into the Upper Circle from the loos… and I’m not sure that Peter Sellars’s concept of Amazonian rainforest extended to sensaround smells ;))

      Working in complete interactivity (with a mobile audience and cast wandering around a space) requires a very, very different way of working and rehearsing – it takes almost double the amount of rehearsal time, compared to ‘auditorium’-based shows. Once you have finished the staging rehearsals, you then need another week or so with “volunteer” audiences, to see if the ideas for getting the audience to “migrate” to new areas of the space*, to take part in activities (some primed “ringleaders” are a handy ruse) or do things at the right moment (oh dear, the black-power salutes in Othello… only the cast were ready at the right moment, the audience finally got their gloves on in the interval…) There are ensembles who work in this format all the time, like Punchdrunk, who have an entire integration team within the cast.

      But you can never tell how it will work. On different nights of the same production, I’ve had some audiences who leapt into dancing a minuet with aplomb, when invited onto the floor by cast members… but on other nights (in the same venue, with the same cast) the response was as frosty as though we were inviting them to join a Black Mass 😉

      * although it’s effective and charming, Graham Vick in an anorak mouthing “Come on, over here!” isn’t ideal for keeping the narrative of the show going… 😉

  • Now I hope this means that the appropriate repertoire goes to the Coliseum and to the Roundhouse.

    I wouldn’t want to see ALL modern stuff at one, and anything composed before 1918 to the other simply because of the bums-on seats calculus.

    Also, where will this leave baroque opera?

    Some account must be taken of the pieces themselves, the acoustics and the space, as well as audience needs/profile.

    Mustn’t it?

    • I would imagine it will leave baroque opera at the Roundhouse, or at the Young Vic. Baroque opera isn’t predicated on having an orchestra pit (even in C17th or C18th theatres they just the front rows of the stalls out, or even positioned the band on stage, or in the scenery). You haven’t got huge ranks of heavy brass, who can only really be worked successfully into a vocal/instrumental balance in the context of a Bayreuth-style pit.

      There are also many documented accounts of baroque operas being performed in impromptu locations (palaces, gardens, historic monuments) without a proscenium stage.

      A pros stage isn’t a prerequisite for C19th opera (as Graham Vick has shown very successfuly) – but it’s usually the environment the librettist and composer had in mind, at least 😉

  • The Roundhouse is entirely unsuitable opera acoustically. People forget\failed to realise that the recent Royal Opera L’orfeo staged there was electronically amplified entirely for this reason.

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