It’s make or break night at English National Opera

It’s make or break night at English National Opera


norman lebrecht

October 11, 2018

There are screeds of empty seats for Porgy and Bess, which opens tonight at the London Coliseum.

The season so far has been tenuous. The debt is mounting. The inexperienced team are clinging on by fingernails.

Everything hinges on Porgy tonight.

It’s the last commission of previous ENO chief John Berry and it’s full of fresh faces, most of them American.

ENO cannot afford to fail.

We’ll be there tonight with some updates.


  • V.Lind says:

    I know some people who are sniffy about Porgy and Bess, claiming it is a “musical,” not an”opera.” I hope the ENO audience is not among them.

    I was an opera devotee (and a student) when I first saw it — the Houston Opera production of the 70s, which has been recorded (and which someone gave me as a special gift a few years ago). To this day it remains one of the greatest things I have ever seen and heard. I had not been an especial Gershwin fan, and my attendance was very much by chance, so it taught me, very early, to close my ears and my mind to nothing lest I miss out on something great.

    I will look forward to your, and other, reviews, and hope that what ENO sees.hears is half as good. If so, Londoners and those who travel to see ENO should not hesitate to rush to it.

    • buxtehude says:

      I too saw the Houston Grand Opera production, in NY in 1976 and later in LA. This was an epochal event, not only in itself but in the troubled history of the opera’s production; it brought back what George intended after 40 years of something considerably less.

      Like you I was floored by it. It grows with the years. For emotional impact — coming from something behind the mere story — nothing else comes close.

      I hope that ENO will Not be presenting the somewhat bowdlerized and (incredibly) re-scored version in use since about 2011 and backed by the copyright holders. Opera houses remain free to mount the real thing.

      • buxtehude says:

        From a video of their rehearsal for Sumertime posted on YT, and from what Isn’t in the credits, I believe this is the real thing — that is, unadulterated,

        Don’t miss it, Londoners!

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Whatever the numbers at ENO they are in the wrong theatre and are no longer a National Opera for England and have not been so since they stopped touring and ceased to have a core company. A shame for all those who are associated with it in it’s current state but frankly if it folded tomorrow who outside it’s current catchment area would lose a great deal of sleep, given that the reducing number of it’s core audience seem to find it wanting. The sad decline has been a fixture of opera life for decades and so make or break ENO will still be thrown further lifebelts because of there is always one last chance, followed by one last chance, followed by…….

    • Dominic Stafford says:

      It is in ENO’s foundation charter that they are not to tour.

      • Anon says:

        Surprised to read that. If it’s the case they should change their name to something more appropriate like London English Opera

        • John La Bouchardiere says:

          Yes, like the National Gallery, across the road, and National Theatre, across the river… Whatever is wrong at ENO, it’s not the name, nor the lack of touring, which is supplied by other companies (including ON, which was founded as the touring arm of ENO).

          • Chris says:

            Opera North was NOT founded as ‘the touring arm of ENO’ but as a fully fledged company in its own right, in order to bring opera to the North of England. This it has done very successfully for almost 40 years – it celebrates its anniversary this November.

      • Nik says:

        Is that something that can’t be changed under any circumstances?

        • Dominic Stafford says:

          It’s not that it can’t be changed; but Opera North exists and tours in the north of England (it’s original planned name was English National Opera in the North), Welsh National Opera serves Wales and other parts of the west of England and Scottish Opera serves Scotland. In addition, England has two permanent touring companies: English Touring Opera and Glyndebourne on Tour.

          To this must be added the observation that a touring company is very different from a resident company. Most touring venues are a great deal smaller than most permanent venues and productions made to fit on smaller stages and designed to be taken down and toured are, in general, not as impressive.

          • Cynical Bystander says:

            “productions made to fit on smaller stages and designed to be taken down and toured are, in general, not as impressive.”

            Agreed, but the productions that are being mounted at ENO seem equally unable to impress their audience, and yes I know you are using ‘impressive’ in a slightly different context. One that implies that what is available on tour does not measure up qualitively to what is available in St Martins Lane but which it’s audience seemingly remains somewhat resistant too based on attendance figures.

  • Nat says:

    The quality of ENO is always lacking when I’ve seen it. ENO is much like housing in London, even the cheapest options are too expensive for what you get. You’ll find much better in some other European capital

  • Patrick Brompton says:

    “There are screeds of empty seats for Porgy and Bess” Are you sure that ‘screed’ is the appropriate word?

  • Michael Shrimpton says:

    I can remember ENO in the sixtys when it was in its prime. Great operas were produced including one of the best Ring Cycles ever conducted by Reginald Goodall , you had to book early to get a seat for all of the operas.