Can Jack the Ripper save English National Opera?

Can Jack the Ripper save English National Opera?


norman lebrecht

March 31, 2019

The first reviews are trickling in of last night’s premiere of Iain Bell’s new opera, directed by ENO boss Daniel Kramer and starring ENO veterans Susan Bullock, Lesley Garrett, Janis Kelly and Marie McLaughlin.

Rupert Christiansen gives it ** in the Telegraph:

I left the Coliseum shaking my head in rueful disbelief. Given a subject as jam-packed with drama, mystery and good old gore as the Ripper murders, how could composer Iain Bell and librettist Emma Jenkins come up with anything as soporifically slow and dreary as this?

Andrew Clements in the Guardian gives it a *** that reads like a **:

Bell’s score is expertly conducted by Martyn Brabbins; it is accomplished enough without being at all memorable. Most of it could have been composed at any time in the last 60 years – Britten’s Peter Grimes is the most obvious reference point – but there is never any sense of the music driving the drama, or of the theatrical effectiveness of the work being enhanced by either the setting of the text or the accompaniment. There is also far too much of it: at least 30 minutes’ music could painlessly be cut, and that might tighten the drama, too, and make the closing scene less ludicrously protracted.

Daniel Kramer’s production, with designs by Soutra Gilmore, is unremarkable, and occasionally rather clumsy, but there is, one suspects, little he could have done to make The Women of Whitechapel live more vividly on stage.

David Nice on calls it pointless.

Why the disgusting charred corpse on the mortuary trolley, I have no idea; it’s one of the false notes in Kramer’s production, which has some clumsy blocking and also depends on too much out-front singing, Les Mis style, and too much sitting above the orchestra pit, where Martyn Brabbins draws superb playing from the ENO Orchestra. Bell certainly knows how to produce beautiful chamber effects in the quiet passages; but in the big moments, he misses the grand-opera success of Britten and John Adams. Wrong approach – and still, for all the special pleading in the programme, wrong subject….

George Hall in The Stage calls it ‘a limited achievement’.

More to follow.



  • Alexander says:

    what’s the next? Michael the Kidslover , apparently …. musically it must be more interesting , especially using children’s choir singing

  • Viola da Bracchio says:

    “A fish rots from the head down”, as the Russian proverb goes. Kramer is the final relic of the Cressida Bollocks regime. A no-hoper appointed by a management consultant. ENO deserved a solid artistic director with a proven track record – but the Beancounter decided otherwise, so she could appoint a talentless American with no experience whatsoever.

    “Jack the Ripper” belongs on Broadway – let it stay there. A sensationalist pile of tripe. And without a title character in the title role. Only a management consultant could think that up.

    Kramer has to go – and go now. He should never have been appointed, and he has not the first clue what a European public wants or expects. He’s not in Kansas now.

    • buxtehude says:

      “Russian proverb” notwithstanding, a fish rots first from its stomach. Fact.

    • Nik says:

      “And without a title character in the title role.” There are some great examples of this, Godot being the obvious one. But it takes a genius to pull it off.

  • Bill says:

    Enough already with the “Save ENO” strapline nonsense. As you well know no theatre company is going to be saved (or otherwise) by a single production. Vacuous clickbait.

    • al says:

      It is not just a single production There are a number of failures and indifferent productions in recent times The one big success Porgy and Bess goes back to previous management

      • Lyra says:

        Factually you maybe correct. Although of course, it depends how you are defining success. But the title here actually suggests that a single production can cause the survival or demise of a whole opera company, which we know to be rubbish. It’s a sensationalist title disguising a half-witted, reductionist approach. The purpose only to get people ferociously clicking.

  • buxtehude says:

    Why are we still borrowing from our British (soon to be just plain old English) cousins? When there is so much rich but unexploited material, right here in the USA?

    Like what? Like Ted Bundy, for example. Talk about horror! A treasure trove of grisly info, all of it true, all of it home-grown, all of it grist of the mills of our graduates.

    And he’s just a drop in the bucket. I don’t want to seem to be boasting but our monsters make those 19th century French and Italian monsters looking piddling and could maybe goose the box office of opera houses everywhere for generations to come.

    • Viola da Bracchio says:

      You go ahead and write your American opera, Clyde. No-one’s stopping you.

      [[ Why are we still borrowing from our British (soon to be just plain old English) cousins? ]]

      When you’re passing out the free Brexit advice, I’d advise a little fact-checking first, ‘Good Buddy’. To save yourself from looking clueless later. Try an atlas. Know what an atlas is?

      • buxtehude says:


        • Viola da Bracchio says:

          You badly need to inform yourself about Brexit. ‘Plain old England’, as you put it, is *not* separating from Scotland, or Wales, nor indeed from N Ireland either. God alone knows where you got this fatuous idea.

          You sadly typify a loudmouth tendency among your countrymen. You’ve made a fool of yourself.

    • Lyra says:

      What’s your point exactly? What are borrowing? The article is about ENO, what are they borrowing? It’s an opera about a crime that happened in Whitechapel, in London performed in London?! What is your comment for?!

  • Viola da Bracchio says:

    The Guardian has published a step-by-step take-down of this fetid gore-gawping dreck:

    Very sad to see Sue Bullock inveigled into this operatic poo. She deserved much better than Stuart Murphy’s sensationalist bilge.

  • Gordon says:

    Monotonal and lacking in incident, and perhaps as much as one hour too long.

    Staging of that kind where everything is black and grimy and bare light bulbs dangle above the stage. In other words, the last word in about 1987, or thereabouts.

    Dreadful libretto; example “keep your hair on”.

    Worthy motives but very disappointing.