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ROBERT HUGILL takes a look around the newly-restored London Coliseum, home of English National Opera


So the Coliseum has reopened. On Saturday night (21 February 2004) there was a gala to celebrate the completion of the restoration project on budget and nearly on time. The audience consisted of members of the public (many of whom, like us, had been anticipating coming to see Nixon in China), members of the ENO staff and company (including a number of distinguished singers), those involved in the restoration, the great and the good, those who helped finance the project (Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council and a number of private and corporate donors), the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Princess Alexandra and the Duke of Kent.

Proceedings were opened by Seán Doran. After all the recent speculation in the press about what the ENO was actually for, it was heartening to hear him mentioning the ideals of Lilian Baylis and reaffirming the company's commitment to opera in English, an ensemble company and an artist led artistic policy. Seán Doran was followed by broadcaster James Naughtie and architect Nick Thompson (leader of the restoration project) who took us through some of the major changes to the theatre. What was interesting was how advanced had been both Frank Matcham (the original architect) and Sir Oswald Stoll (his client).

The London Coliseum, home to English National Opera, with part of the London skyline. Photo © Grant Smith
The London Coliseum, home to English National Opera, with part of the London skyline. Photo © Grant Smith

Music Director Paul Daniels then introduced director Peter Sellers (the original director of Nixon in China) who described the scene from Nixon in China that formed the evening's musical proceedings. On 21 February 1972 Richard and Pat Nixon and Henry Kissinger were entertained to a banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing by Chou En-Lai, so it was most apposite that this scene was performed by the company (James Maddalena (Richard Nixon), Janis Kelly (Pat Nixon), Gerald Finley (Chou En-Lai), conductor Paul Daniels) in a simple, scenery-less staging. The scene's joyous bubbling finale was a good way to finish the musical proceedings. The event closed with ENO chairman Martin Smith thanking everyone involved in the project.

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Copyright © 26 February 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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