A few years ago, if you believe the London press, the English National Opera was on life support. After picking an exciting young music director, Edward Gardner, and some retooling, they are back and stronger than ever. The 2009-2010 season, with 12 new productions, is flush with excitement and a provocative alternative to the Royal Opera.
The lead-off opera is audacity defined. The iconoclastic Catalan theater company, La Fura dels Baus is staging Georgy Ligeti's opera, Le Grand Macabre. This production, seen by this writer in Brussels in April, is cheeky, dazzling and grand fun - one of the finest and most original stagings in recent years.
During the car horn overture, a film shows of a plump girl binge eating (including, appropriately, a left-over Big Mac). A look of panic and distress as she crawls to the bathroom is freeze-framed and the curtain opens with her now giant figure filling the stage. in the libretto, the visionary Nekrotzar predicts a comet smashing into and destroying the earth. His prediction fails to materialize and, while purportedly about death, the opera is actually about life in all its randy forms.
Susanna Andersson has the imposing dual role of Venus/Gepopo and Wolfgang Albinger-Speerhacke is the amiable drunk, Piet the Pot. Andrew Watts plays the prancing Prince Go-Go with Pavlo Hunka as Nekrotzar. Stage director Alex Oll_ brings along La Fura dels Baus team members, including Set Designer Alfons Flores and the busy video designer Frac Aleu. He and the lighting designer, Peter van Praet continually transform the sculptural figure to fit the scenes as cast members emerge from every possible orifice.
The season continues with Jonathan Miller's resetting of Verdi's Rigoletto among Sicily's mafia. A revival of the David McVicar production of Britten's The Turn of the Screw features the conducting giant Charles Mackerras with Rebecca Evans singing the role of Governess and Deborah Warner will turn her considerable talents to a new staging of Handel's Messiah.
ENO returns to the Young Vic theater for Hans Werner Henze's rarely performed opera Elegy for Young Lovers and also brings back their production of Philip Glass' Satyagraha. Janacek's Katya Kabanova receives a new production in March by David Alden with Patricia Racette in the title role and Susan Bickley as Marfa. Another new production is Puccini's perennial favorite, Tosca, here staged by a soprano acclaimed for her performances in the role, Catherine Malfitano.
In addition to the Tosca, Edward Gardner will conduct Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, a double bill of Duke Bluebeard's Castle of Bartok and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (danced by the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre) and new productions of Puccini's Turandot in October and Mozart's Idomeneo next June.
Details of the new season can be found at www.eno.org