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ROBERT HUGILL asks the question and,
whilst previewing the forthcoming season,
suggests three possible answers


What is the English National Opera for? This must be one of the questions with which Seán Doran has been cudgelling his brain over the last twelve months or so, as he put together his first complete season (2005/2006) for the company. It is a question that might have puzzled some of his illustrious predecessors; Lillian Baylis, Lord Harewood and the powerhouse trio (Mark Elder, David Pountney and Peter Jonas) all had a clear vision of the function of their company.

But the world has changed. Anglophone opera singers take their proper place in the opera world and ENO can no longer cast from a pool of distinguished singers who are underused and undervalued elsewhere in the operatic world. During the redevelopment of the London Coliseum, the company has suffered a crisis of confidence and high-turnover of artistic directors which has many parallels with the Royal Opera House's experiences of rebuilding.

Doran has also had to fight the prejudices which attended the announcement of his appointment. The press made much of the people apparently passed over by the ENO board and they highlighted Doran's lack of experience running an opera house, conveniently forgetting that some of London's most gifted opera administrators have come from non-operatic backgrounds.

So, all in all, everyone was waiting for the announcement of ENO's 2005/2006 season with bated breath, but much of the programme had been carefully leaked beforehand, so there were few surprises.

The first non-surprise is the lack of a Ring cycle. Doran attributes this entirely to money, and given Scottish Opera's post-Ring cycle problems, who can blame him. But there is a nagging doubt about commitment to a project which did not originate with him and which has been dogged by criticism in the press. It is a project which has highlighted the many differences between the current ENO and the so-called glory days when the previous Goodall Ring was new. I hope that Phyllida Lloyd is allowed to re-work her Ring into a complete cycle; without this the production will frustratingly not achieve closure.

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Copyright © 29 January 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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