What next at ENO?

1 They need to appoint an artistic director, fast.

One of the issues with Mark Wigglesworth was that his contract specified that he was working to an artistic director. In the absence of an AD, he had no boss, nobody understood his concerns and his voice was not heard.

2 The job of artistic director was advertised six weeks ago, with a nine-day application deadline. That suggests they had a particular person in mind. We here three people had second  interviews. Expect an announcement soon.

3 The artistic director will propose a new music director. He or she will need to be drawn from recent Coliseum conductors who earned the respect of orchestra and chorus.

4 A short list might start with Ryan Wigglesworth (no relation), who is developing as a composer; the Akhnaten conductor Karen Kamensek, who has recent experience as general music director in Hanover but none of English conditions; and the capable Canadian Keri-Lynn Wilson, who has other attachments. To appoint a music director who has not worked at ENO before – and there are some promising British candidates – would risk turmoil.

 

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  • Mark Wigglesworth is a brilliant musician and ambassador for the musicians he works with, but honestly, what a stupid, selfish act.

    ENO needs him now. He has banged on and on about the company being a family. Well, he’s just walked out on that family. If he wanted to help protect musicians and champion their work you have to be on the inside. By leaving he is no help at all.

    If people were worried about the future of ENO before, he has just made the situation so much worse. Let’s hope the next appointment will be better equipped to steady the ship rather than making it all about them.

    • If after a year he feels that he wasn’t being listened to what would be the point of staying any longer? If the cost of staying with the family was six months of Mikado revivals I’d say that was a cost far far far too high!

    • ‘honestly, what a stupid, selfish act’

      And, obviously one that could not have been predicted from his previous behaviour at other organisations.

      • You have no idea. Ask any chorus member of ENO whether that’s a ‘stupid, selfish act’. As for Ryan Wigglesworth as a possible replacement, quite simply a BBCSO performance he conducted a few years back was one of the worst I ever heard.

        I understood there was idle and false speculation here about what MW did and didn’t want to conduct. Has it been removed?

        • Even from the chorus’s point of view, flouncing off in a huff so that he can’t support them any more does seem rather stupid and selfish, yes.

          A rat leaving a sinking ship. Not at all Nice.

      • And, obviously one that could not have been predicted from his previous behaviour at other organisations. –

        If he doesn’t get his own way he resigns. Not strictly what’s happened in this case but he likes to get his way. If not then toys get thrown out of the pram! I speak from experience!

  • The appointment of Artistic Director has now been made. An interesting choice. I wonder if one of the reasons mark left was that he was not consulted?

  • Any new MD needs a strong commitment to the company – and not merely bulking-out their own portfolio of creative work.

    Better men than Mark Wigglesworth have conducted G&S at the Coli, and seen the merit of a deft, light touch in what is core repertory for ENO. If Charlie Mac wasn’t too proud to conduct Patience, nor should any other MD at ENO be either. No mismatch with conducting the entire Janacek output there.

    Or announce an interregnum, and see who of the contenders gels best with the company?

    Wigglesworth seems temperamentally unsuited to working in theatres. He should probably look for an orchestral appointment now. Preferably one where the Artiste’s Door doesn’t bang so loudly when you slam it behind you.

    • Your comments are more ignorant than you could possibly imagine. However it is refreshing to see that you disguise your ignorance by hiding behind a pseudonym like Pooroperman and Listman!

          • I don’t know where this ludicrous claim about G&S comes from. MW knows as well as anyone how difficult it is to conduct well, and what genius lies behind it. As usual, speculation is not fact. There’s a lot of BREXIT style flummery going on here.

            Can we get the main fact absolutely straight? MW told Hugh Canning months ago that ENO was not, in his opinion, viable as anything other than a full-time company. He has remained true to that tenet, and the entire artistic side of ENO understands and respects it. He also put forward an alternative proposal that did not involve cutting of staff wages. At the moment we only have rumour to tell us that the management thought it ‘overambitious’. All will be revealed soon, I hope. In the meantime stop trolling.

  • ENO will not be lost for commentators offering opinions about how it should be run amid its on-going crisis. Mark Wigglesworth’s resignation appears, however, to be connected to fundamental mistakes in how ENO is operating. The following makes no attempt to do justice to the situation’s myriad complexities, instead only a few thoughts about why ENO should exist, what it should do, and how.

    1. ENO must be led by an artistic leader: this person should be the music director, who is also the artistic director, taking responsibility for the Company directly in front of the public, conducting a large proportion of performances. He or she must have an absolute vision for the House, have full power to implement it, and be a constant presence. He or she must set standards by personal example, command the complete trust of the orchestra, chorus and backstage staff, and have their endorsement to lead. The artistic leader should be accountable directly to the Secretary for State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as the taxpayer’s representative, without Arts Council involvement.

    2. Drop the rigid English-language dogma. Create a repertory of productions for which there is perennial audience demand, e.g. Carmen, La Bohème, Traviata and The Ring, in the original language with surtitles.

    3. Cherish the English opera repertoire – set the global standard for performances of Britten, Purcell, Adams, Gershwin, Glass and G & S.

    4. Be the world’s greatest advocate for operas by composers of today. Identify and nurture composers to create operas of artistic excellence able to fill the House.

    5. Stage a performance every day, expect Christmas and essential technical and dress rehearsals. Ensure the House is full by any means necessary. Empty seats are an insult to taxpayer subsidy. Rent other space in the Coliseum commercially when not being used, including rehearsal rooms – extract maximum value out of this great theatre.

    6. No ‘-isms’ or other superfluous staging fads imposed on operas – instead, insist on thoughtful, score-based productions with great acting and suitable design. This does not mean constant conservatism or unimaginative literalism, but does mean respecting the artistic integrity of operas. Audiences do not pay to be patronised, lectured to, or to endure self-conscious originality for its own sake. Nobody much cares about a stage director’s political opinions. Leave the lavatories off-stage in the place they belong. ENO has lost the trust of too many potential audience members: people who may risk a dodgy production for £20 will not do so for up to £145.

    7. Give artistic personnel fair salaries while expecting flexible and innovative working. Treat staff as partners, creating the potential for higher pay if extra income is generated. Develop and promote ENO Chorus to achieve popular acclaim nationally, including on television and independent performances; actively seek film and session work. Co-ordinate with the Royal Opera House and share people collaboratively, for example when ROH does Boris Godunov or Die Meistersinger, lend ENO Chorus to double the numbers; programme a chorus-free opera ENO on the same night – and vice versa.

    • A very thorough post indeed, I’m certainly supportive of all of these suggestions (save for G & S which is a personal dislike, but no reason for not mounting it).
      Why do opera companies need artistic directors anyway? Every time they crop up it seems to spell trouble and yet another non-productive layer and salary.
      Thank you for your sensible comments.

    • I agree that ENO needs to look to the future, and give consideration to other ways of doing things. That needs leadership and vision. Currently there is none, just a beancounter who went to Cambridge.

      Rehearsal rooms? At the Coliseum? There aren’t any. Vocal calls are held in 2-3 of the bar areas around the building, but you can’t do any kind of stage call there, for obvious reasons. The Chorus have a tiny room, which is just about big enough to squeeze everyone in, provided nobody stands up. The main rehearsal rooms are further up the Jubilee Line, in West Hampstead. Even so, these are under intense usage pressure – there isn’t any “slack” available. Believe it or not, ENO have been renting-out any spare time at rehearsal rooms for donkey’s years :))

      The idea of joint chorus operations with the ROH is interesting in principle, but a scheduling nightmare in reality. Both of these choruses have subgroup divisions to make maximum use of them – it’s only very rarely that the ‘full chorus’ appears in a show. Trying to tally those schedules together is very unlikely – although perhaps a major project would provide the impetus? Your thinking on the ENO chorus – as though they need ‘extra outside work’ seems to reflect Arts Council views that they are just sitting about all the time? In fact Chorus time is like gold dust, used very preciously and economically.

      The idea of a permanent repertoire of mainstream favourites is another Arts Council warhorse which isn’t supported by stats. The ENO shows which are guaranteed sellouts are not the Traviatas or Carmens (which can be seen anywhere anytime), but unusual theatrical experiences like Akhnaten – for which tickets are snapped up as soon as booking opens. ENOs geographical catchment is very large (people come from other parts of Europe sometimes – I’m one of them), but the hook needs to be baited properly. Gut belief that there must surely be someone in Herefordshire who hasn’t yet seen that weary old Barber of Seville is not borne out in ticket sales. Anyone in marketing in any field of endeavour will tell you the same thing – the easiest and most reliable sale is to an existing customer who regularly buys what you produce. You even have their names and addresses 🙂

    • Let ENO tour? As a child growing up the south of England I went to watch Welsh National Opera at Southampton. Great for WNO, and we weren’t bothered if it was WNO or ENO, but it’s surely daft for ENO never to leave London. Where’s the National in ENO currently?

      • Quote from Paul Daniel – in 1997 –

        “It is a problem that the company is called English National Opera and is not seen to be national. But people forget two things. Opera North actually started out as English National Opera North and it fulfils that role. Also, it was the Arts Council that stopped ENO touring in the Eighties, so that there could be `spheres of influence’ for small-scale companies.”

        • Interesting points. I can see the potential problem for Opera North if ENO invaded. But it remains a problem for ENO, and the anomaly of WNO touring southern England is curious. But we’re all one country (…kind of) so it shouldn’t matter. But I wonder if financially it would help ENO to be able to get out. It would certainly help its profile.

          • There’s a technical problem here, Will. The Coli is Britain’s largest stage. Shows constructed for it won’t fit into other theatres. And productions predicated for the Coliseum would need substantial reworking to be performed in other venues. ENO’s symphonic-sized orchestra won’t fit into many venues. Maybe the Southampton Gaumont and the Oxford Apollo (or whatever it’s called now?) are two of a very few.

            Reworking or rebuilding existing shows is a costly operation. Cinecasts are cheaper.

  • Of course I know it came from here. But THEN where did it come from? Facts are not often Slipped Disc’s strongest point. At best it’s a misinterpretation. Can we have clarification, please, Norman?

  • Karen Kamensek would be superb: I have heard her conduct a wonderful Meistersinger at Hannover, and thrilling VW 6th Symphony at Wuppertal. BUT why would she want to leave Hannover and move down to take over ENO????

    • 6 new productions and 11 revival productions this season in Hannover.
      ENO, in comparison, has 11 productions in total for season 15/16.
      The Coliseum is approximately twice the size of the Staatsoper Hannover.
      Would MD of ENO be a backwards step for Kamensek? Only she can decide!

      I recently worked with an excellent English-speaking conductor here in Germany who was sounded out for the ENO job prior to EG´s appointment, he declined as he didn´t like living in London.

      • There are many excellent British/English speaking conductors working in German opera houses – and beyond. But why would any of them want the poison chalice that is ENO?? I wonder if Howard Griffiths, Alexander Shelley, Jonathan Darlington or Lionel Friend would be interested? I doubt it!! And I think that Karen K would be totally daft to leave Hannover where she is clearly able to do ALMOST what she wants (tho’ there is obviously an ‘intendant’) and do it very well indeed. By the way, if you go to opera at Karlsruhe’s massive theatre – where another British conductor is in charge – the surtitles are in English as well as German! – and the comfortable, lots of leg room, see well, hear well, seat prices start at about 12 Euros!

  • ENO needs a vision, and the ability to implement it, and for that it needs the right people.

    You need to start with assembling the right board, starting with a Chairman. Heavy-hitting, commercial, but who absolutely supports the company.

    The board also needs frankly to have some ENO old hands on it, who know the arguments and the pitfalls: Jonas, Mellor etc.

    Then they need to get a decent Artistic Director, who in turn can attract a capable and committed Music Director.

    (Who is CEO IS important, but frankly between a strong board and good artistic management, they need to be good managers rather than leaders…)

    Above all, given the need for some seriously deft work on repertoire and resource management, a seriously shit hot opera planner.

    Plannlng the works, the tours, the artists, schedules, the lot. Including what is to be done in English – and what not; what is to be done at the Coli – and what not; where to tour, and where not.

    This is where I would spend the money. Taken together, a real Powerhouse Mark II.

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