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Pamela Rosenberg's own plans for San Francisco are comparably exciting : they include the American staged première of Messiaen's St François d'Assise, the complete version of Berlioz's Les Troyens (a co-production, as it happens, with ENO), Virgil Thomson's The Mother of Us All, and a new commission (details will emerge in the autumn) subtitled An American Faust. As at Payne's ENO the San Francisco season also places a suitably balancing emphasis on Baroque and Classical.

Patricia Racette as Jenufa in San Francisco Opera's 2001 Production of the Janácek opera. Photo: Larry Merkle
Patricia Racette as Jenufa in San Francisco Opera's 2001 Production of the Janácek opera. Photo: Larry Merkle

During her tenure at Stuttgart (awarded 'Best European Opera Company of the Year' four times under her leadership by journalists polled by the opera magazine Opernwelt), the company was especially noted for her discovery and nurturing of promising artists, its well-judged, inventive productions, its extensive range of education and training programmes, and Pamela Rosenberg's parallel skill at building and maintaining a fiscally sound company.

'Everybody has had financial problems with opera over the past year,' she says; 'to think otherwise would be naive : we were hit terribly in San Francisco, and London lost out likewise. If there's a deficit -- and quite frankly it's not a very large one (ours in San Francisco and those of many other US companies are much bigger) -- it's categorically not because the Coliseum and the company have been badly managed by Payne's administration. Whatever the chairman or the Arts Council may think, you can't run a serious arts organisation on the basis of profit making; if that happened, we'd just become a wasteland.'

'Both at Leeds and in London,' she adds, 'Payne by and large took his audiences with him. There may have been a couple of controversial productions : I personally liked the Don Giovanni, and had more problems with A Masked Ball; but Calixto Bieito [who incidentally directs a new production of Die Fledermaus at Welsh National Opera this September] had a perfectly logical engagement with both; you certainly can't dismiss his work out of hand. And of course there have been many others which were acclaimed (Pelléas, Boris, Manon Lescaut, and Carmelites are all good examples -- not to mention Payne's succesful revivals of Powerhouse stagings like Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk).'

'It's not the challenging work that has scared people off -- if indeed they have been : it's simply patronising not to give ENO audiences credit for the intelligence that they have; many of these things are not a problem to them at all.'

Another of the unmatched triumphs of the Payne years : the big guns of Mark-Anthony Turnage's 'The Silver Tassie'
Another of the unmatched triumphs of the Payne years : the big guns of Mark-Anthony Turnage's 'The Silver Tassie'

'Of all British opera companies ENO has the most rock-solid, respected reputation on the Continent. Covent Garden may pull up its socks in the next few years and regain its once enviable reputation (there have already been signs of that) but ENO has been doing exemplary work continuously over the last fifteen to twenty years. What's more, it has taken opera to a wider audience already by doing many productions that had a relevance to, and spoke to normal persons -- not fusty, not old fashioned, not prim.'

Rosenberg has plenty of knowledge of bold new productions : having participated in masterclasses as a stage director and a designers' course at the Bayreuth Festival under Wieland Wagner, and then also furthered her opera studies at the Guildhall and London Opera Centre, she played an integral part in the development of the Frankfurt Opera during the Michael Gielen era, where she served in several capacities between 1974 and 1987, as a stage director, supervisor of scenic production, and Artistic Administrator.

'The whole revolutionising of opera in England in the 1980s', she recalls, 'actually came about because everyone, from Tom Cairns, Tim Albery, Antony McDonald, and others, the producers and designers all came out and saw those Frankfurt productions in those days; and that absolutely influenced what was seen in England. What's happened is that audiences in Europe and in England have got much more used to productions that are readings, fresh interpretations of the score. Like Chereau's "19th century capitalism", George Bernard Shaw-type reading of the Ring - a few years on, noone is protesting about it any more.'

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Copyright © 29 July 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK





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