Few signs of enthusiasm or confidence have greeted Friday’s appointment of Daniel Kramer, 39, as ENO’s next artistic director.
Kramer, 39, arrived at ENO nine years ago as a protege of the opera-loving actor Simon Callow. He was tasked with directing Harrison Birtwistle’s graphic Punch and Judy and made a decent, if unmemorable, job of it.
What sticks more vividly in mind is his 2009 production of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Coliseum, which was a total car-crash. Kramer set Bartok’s opera in the concrete basements of modern abductors and mass killers. As I described it at the time:
Daniel Kramer, the young American director who added ten degrees of chill to Harrison Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy at the Young Vic, places Bluebeard in a world of sexual abduction and child abuse – the world of Fred and Rose West who buried victims in the foundations of their Gloucester home, of the Belgian paedophile rings and, most explicitly, in the warped world of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian building materials salesman who raped his daughter and kept her family imprisoned in the basement of his Amstetten home.
More than merely unpleasant and exploitative, the production was incoherent, ugly and irretrievably naive. Careers have been ended by less awful shows.
Kramer’s new employers maintain he has matured. The board chose him from a limited field of candidates willing to risk their careers on a failing company, a field reduced still further by the subjugation of the artistic director to a cost-cutting chief exec and a deeply uninspiring board.
No hats are being thrown in the air. This is a very low-key event. Kramer is the board’s last dice left to throw. If he fails, ENO goes.