ENO plucks casting director from Scotland

ENO plucks casting director from Scotland


norman lebrecht

January 11, 2017

Scottish Opera’s head of casting replaces the departing John McMurray.

press release:

English National Opera has appointed Michelle Williams as Head of Casting from 6 March 2017. Bob Holland, formerly Programming Director, will take on a new role as Creative Associate and Producer with immediate effect.

Reporting to ENO’s Artistic Director, Daniel Kramer, and working closely with ENO’s Music Director, Martyn Brabbins, Michelle will be responsible for the casting of singers and conductors for ENO productions both inside and outside the Coliseum. Forming part of the Senior Artistic Team at ENO, Michelle will also seek out new singing talent, and develop and support ENO’s talent development programmes.



Michelle began her career at Scottish Opera in 2010 as Assistant Company Manager. From 2011 she held the role of Artists’ Manager, collaborating with the Music Director on the casting, management and contracting of guest singers and conductors for both small- and main-scale productions, as well as for education projects, fundraising events and outside engagements. In January 2016 she became Head of Casting, contributing to Scottish Opera’s strategic planning and programming, and coordinating Scottish Opera’s involvement in the training of artists and arts professionals. In 2015-16 she was awarded the Creative Scotland Fellowship of the Clore Leadership Programme, mentored by Vikki Heywood. 

Bob Holland joined ENO in 2005 as Company Manager, becoming Producer in 2011 and Programming Director in 2015. In his new role as Creative Associate and Producer he will be working closely with Daniel Kramer on delivering ENO’s artistic programme both at the London Coliseum and beyond.



    apparently replacing Sophie Joyce more directly, acc. ENO. John McMurray leaves at the end of the season

  • Richard Gibbs says:

    Moving from one part-time company to another makes some sort of sense, doesn’t it?

    • cynical bystander says:

      But after a discreet time in the ACE naughty corner, ENO will be showered with largesse yet again, whereas SO will continue to be starved of resources being as it is provincial as seen from London and elitist as seen from Edinburgh.

      • John La Bouchardiere says:

        That ‘discreet time’ will mean a downsized ENO for at least the next funding period, until 2022. Given the ACE’s political drive to steer funds out of London, the chances of that position being reversed seem small in the extreme.

        • David Nice says:

          And should there come a time when ENO is restored to grace, it will have been so damaged artistically and administratively – despite the input of Brabbins, who isn’t free to do much for several seasons anyway – that there will be nothing worth saving. Meanwhile the company will carry on doing quality shows as much as it can, as it always has during these shaky decades.

      • William says:

        ACE doesn’t fund SO.

  • David Nice says:

    Surely a casting director should have more experience? Though you have to wish her well. Such a shame Sarah Playfair felt she was too old to face the kerfuffle. Sorry the lovely Sophie Joyce went. Good riddance to McMurray, though he made good calls with Tamara Wilson and Marjorie Owens among his (too many) Americans.

  • Chris Swain says:

    A shockingly bad decision!

  • Robert Alderson says:

    I would like to start by stating the obvious. It’s not Michelle’s fault that senior managers in opera have appointed her to these posts and I too would wish her luck in her new appointment.

    With regard to the appointment of casting directors and agents ( yes! agents.I have had many dealings with agents over the past 30yrs and much of the following I would suggest applies to some set up in this field of the industry!!)

    Everyone has an opinion and seemingly knowledgeability about singing, probably because most people can sing to a higher or lesser degree. There’s truth in the adage ” a little knowledge is dangerous Therefore it seems that it’s ok to appoint almost anyone from an assistant administrator to an instrumentalist of some kind to fill these positions .I’ve never known a singer to to be hired as an orchestral manager or to audition violinists to lead an orchestra!

    It takes years of listening and working with singers to know how a voice will manage a role or transfer from audition scenario to actual performance with all the added forces of the theatre, production and orchestral score with which the instrument has to speak.

    I look back to the days when our major opera companies had salaried principal singers with incredible vocal gravitas and the junior principal singers understudying and singing smaller roles ( there was also more funding around..I know!) in my opinion this is the ideal scenario in which to nurture our young singers within the industry. It was the sole remit of the casting director and his assistant to oversee and implement this. These casting directors were people who’d been emmersed in singing for years in one capacity or another before they got the top job in casting.
    I’m glad that there are a couple of the old guard stil left.

    I believe the reason that we often seem to be experiencing smaller voices with less vocal gravitas upon many of our opera stages is because some casting directors seem to be incapable of “venue transferral ” i.e. taking / imagining the sound,resonance and vocal intention and transferring this into the auditorium with all the added forces of the orchestra and production. The most common case scenario which demonstrate the casting directors lack of understanding of “venue transferral ” ( which doesn’t serve the opera house well ) is when a really big rich voiced singer auditions in a small venue …. only to get the “feed back” we think it’s a bit too big or what an ugly voice ! The adage “pearls before swine” comes to mind.

    Conversely the thinner, charming more immediately appealing (in small audition rooms or heavily carpeted crush bars !! ) light lyric voices often make such a great impression upon those auditioning that they are sometimes awarded for their efforts by being offered a wonderful, heavier lyric role…and then one wonders why they are rather disappointing in performance .. in that big space?

    In several cases to my knowledge some of these lovely, wholesome rejected voices have gone into Europe and been given wonderful opportunities. I remember one casting Director actually told a very fine contralto that her voice should be “bottled in a museum and that she should forget being a singer” that singer went on to sing important roles abroad in major houses….We need a big toned voiced Mistress Quickly otherwise we may confuse her with Meg Page for example!!!! Often the extreme detail in casting is lost. We want interesting listening. We want to hear the different timbre within a vocal category e.g. Ford’s lyric baritone and Pistol’s burnished, richer bass baritone.

    The casting diectors should always have excellent vocal knowledge and the insight to recognise fine talent and to have the imagination and casting creativity to make sure it’s well used..and if not used encouraged and used at a later date. I doubt that wonderful singers like Helen Watts and John Vickers would get a look in with some of today’s professional opera casting personnel.

    Great vocal detail in casting can only come out of expertise and experience therefore those working singers who are established and the not so established deserve to be judged and audioned by a casting director who “knows his/her stuff” appraises alone and stands by that decision. Should the director/producer of the show have a say? Well that’s another question.

    Perhaps the Senior Opera House Managers should head hunt well seasoned retired singers, vocal coaches (reps) for these positions in future?

    Sorry for my “rant” and all the best to ENO for its future.

  • Stanislaus Cracoviensis says:

    It seems that the Art of Fach has been forgotten in this modern age.

    • Anonymous says:

      Although the Fach system is quite literally just a filing system that theatres used to use. Applying the principle of Fach to individual voices is one of the things that has got opera into such a sorry state.

      • Una says:

        Mercifully we in Britain and in America have never done the F****** Fach system per se. It’s a peculiarly German system into which, after several auditions and several agents later, I could never come out as one or the other in their eyes and ears! It has truly got opera into a sorry state in some ways. But then England and America don’t have 56 or more opera houses fully funded with orchestra and into which a singer can move around on contract or as a guest. But out opera has been very successful and that includes the artistic side of ENO. My own singing teacher was a principle baritone there for many years, and there have always been financial problems but rarely artistic and vocal ones. I too wish ENO the best but the days of Reggie’s Ring Cycle and that calibre of singing have sadly gone. Too many pretty voices all sounding the same with no character – same on the radio. You don’t know who is singing half the time, but the audience seem to love them when they don’t know anything different – hmmm …