English National Opera and Opera North today announced their 2013/14 seasons, while also addressing various ‘extra-curricular’ issues: for ENO, there was a positive response to concerns over the company’s financial situation; and from Opera North came a trenchant defence of arts funding.
Highlights in ENO’s new programme include a new opera by Julian Anderson ‒ Thebans, with a libretto by Frank McGuinness, will be directed by Netherlands Opera’s Pierre Audi and conducted by Ed Gardner ‒ and a new production of Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face which will be staged by theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins at the former industrial space Ambika P3.
Both artistic director John Berry and Edward Gardner expressed their delight at having Julian Anderson on board for his first opera. Gardner called him a ‘top class international composer’, with Berry adding that ‘it feels like it is his time’.
There will also be new productions of Die Fledermaus (opening September 2013, director Christopher Alden), The Magic Flute (November 2013, director Simon McBurney), Rigoletto (February 2014, director Christopher Alden), Handel’s Rodelinda (February 2014, director Richard Jones), Così fan tutte (May 2014, director Katie Mitchell), and Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini (June 2014, director Terry Gilliam).
Returning productions will be Anthony Minghella’s Madam Butterfly (14 October 2013), the third appearance of Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha (November 2013), David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes (January 2014) and Penny Woolcock’s 2010 production of Berlioz’s The Pearl Fishers (June 2014).
Soprano Eleanor Dennis and tenor Anthony Gregory will be inducted into the ENO Harewood Artists scheme.
Chief executive Loretta Tomasi delved into ENO’s financial situation, which has recently drawn some criticism with the company seen as dipping too far into its reserves in the 2011/12 financial year. She sounded a note of cautious optimism, with a box office increase of £1.3m (bringing it back in line with 2010/11 levels), and an increase in international collaborations meaning the company can produce more work for less investment.
Overall, Tomasi reported a ‘significant surplus’, emphasising that that was due to ‘special fundraising’ but that a reduction by two thirds of the company’s unrestricted deficit was still a reason to feel positive.
She also drew attention to a successful application for a £3m Catalyst Fund grant from the Arts Council ‒ the amount is dependent on the company raising a further £6m in match funding, which Tomasi was confident would be achieved, with 85% of the amount already in the bank. The initiative will boost ENO’s coffers by a total of £9m to become an ‘expendable endowment’, a cash reserve which is designed to be spent in the long term. Tomasi specified that ‘it has to last 25 years’ and ‘will be used to invest in productions which will provide us with income streams in the future’.
Meanwhile, Opera North’s season includes new productions of Britten’s Death in Venice (October 2013), Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West (January 2014) and the continuation of the company’s Ring cycle with Götterdämmerung directed by Peter Mumford (June 2014).
The whole of ON’s autumn 2013 season is taken up with a ‘Festival of Britten’ bringing together revivals of Peter Grimes and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the company’s first performances of Death In Venice, staged in Aldeburgh as part of Britten100. The company also revives Tim Albery’s 2008 production of Verdi’s Macbeth in February 2014.
Writing in the press materials, ON’s general director, Richard Mantle, launches a rhetorical response to Maria Miller’s recent speech on arts funding: ‘Core cultural investment from central government, and the way in which it exponentially impacts way beyond the cultural sector itself, must not be underestimated in terms of the return on investment which it already generates, and no one must wish to see this depleted any further in future spending rounds.
He adds that ‘the effect of spending cuts has probably inflicted no greater impact on any major arts organisation in England than Opera North … we have injected energy and effort towards building up contributed income from the private sector, though this in no way wholly replaces funding cuts, but the generosity of many individuals, corporate partners, together with Trusts & Foundations, and in particular the ON Future Fund [endowment fund] has ensured the continued vitality of Opera North, albeit that the Company has had to address significant structural and operational changes.’