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English National Opera (ENO) is an opera company based in Londonmarker, England, resident at the London Coliseummarker in St. Martin's Lanemarker. It is one of the two principal opera companies in London, along with the Royal Operamarker, Covent Gardenmarker. All productions are performed in English, and the company is known for its often modernised productions and lower ticket prices.


In 1898, Lilian Baylis presented a series of opera concerts at the Old Vicmarker theatre. Some ten years later she established a theatre company there, initially performing 'cut-down' versions of Shakespeare's plays. She added a small group of dancers to the company, Sadler's Wells Theatremarker opened, and the Vic-Wells Opera Company was formed. The dancers later separated from Vic-Wells and became the Royal Ballet.

The company toured while the theatre was closed during the Second World War. It returned as Sadler's Wells Opera Company, and the theatre re-opened with Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, introducing the first English opera composer since Purcell to receive international acclaim (aside from Arthur Sullivan, who wrote the popular Savoy Operas but only one grand opera). Boyd Neel conducted the company from 1944 to 1946. In 1968 Sadler's Wells Opera moved from Sadler's Wells Theatre to the London Coliseummarker. Six years later the company was renamed English National Opera.

The 1980 represented a period of strength for the company, with Peter Jonas as general director, David Pountney as artistic director, and Mark Elder as music director, known as the "Power House" years. In 1984 ENO was the first Britishmarker opera company to tour the United Statesmarker since the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and in 1990 it was the first major foreign opera company to tour the former Soviet Unionmarker. After acquiring the freehold to the Coliseum, the company embarked on a four-year restoration programme in 2004. While the Coliseum was undergoing these changes, ENO temporarily made its home in the Barbican Centremarker. Martin Smith, who became ENO chairman in 2001, was an important financial donor to the restoration costs.

In the early years of the 21st century, the ENO struggled with artistic, administrative and financial difficulties. In July 2002, Nicholas Payne resigned as ENO General Director. His successor was Sean Doran, whose appointment was controversial because he had no prior experience of running an opera company. One of Doran's notable achievements was a performance of Richard Wagner at the Glastonbury Festival. However, low box-office returns and critical reviews of the ENO Ring Cycle during the early part of his tenure contributed to Doran's difficulties. In December 2003, music director Paul Daniel announced that he would resign from ENO at the end of his contract in 2005. Towards the later part of Daniel's tenure, there were reports of clashes between him and Doran. Oleg Caetani was announced to succeed Daniel as music director as of January 2006.

On 29 November 2005, Doran resigned as artistic director, during the first full season that he had programmed as artistic director. ENO mounted sixteen productions in its 2005-06 season with a paid attendance for the year of 216,236. Although ENO performs all operas in English, in 2005 it introduced surtitles at the Coliseum. In December 2005, Caetani's appointment as the next ENO Music Director was cancelled. To replace Doran, Smith decided to divide the duties between two people and named Loretta Tomasi as chief executive and John Berry as artistic director. However, these elevations from within the organization were also controversial, because these postings were neither advertised nor cleared at the top level of the Arts Council. Smith received strong press criticism for this action, and in December 2005, Smith announced his resignation. Berry soon received criticism for his decisions regarding singer casting in ENO productions.

In March 2006 ENO announced its next Music Director, Edward Gardner, as of May 2007, with an initial contract of 3 years. Under Gardner's leadership, the quality of the orchestra and chorus has stabilised. In its 2007-08 season, ENO's marketing schemes produced strong growth in attendance of younger audiences, and overall attendance figures began to show improvement as the Coliseum played to 85 percent capacity, a marked improvement. ENO has reported an improved financial situation, with £5 million in reserve funds in April 2009.


Over the years the company has developed a reputation for staging well-known operas in assertively updated productions with modern or updated costumes and scenery, dividing opinion on the lines shown in the following correspondence in The Times in July 2002 when Payne resigned as general director:

  • "Payne's employment of directors who are often seemingly more concerned to indulge their egos in re-interpreting the operas they have been invited to direct than in fulfilling the wishes of the librettist and the composer has been the main reason for falling attendance at the London Coliseum." (from the music critic Alan Blyth).

The company's repertoire has included two complete stagings of Wagner's Ring cycle since the 1970s; the regular indroduction of new operas; revivals of light operas, operettas (particularly Gilbert and Sullivan) and musicals; occasional stagings of oratorios in full operatic guise; and the avoidance of bel canto operas where vocal display takes precedence over musical and dramatic content.

Ring cycle

The Sadlers Wells/ENO Ring cycle of the 1970s was a major milestone in the company's development. Music director Sir Charles Mackerras, though a sound Wagnerian, had the vision and generosity to cede the baton to Reginald Goodall, who had been a neglected figure on the Covent Garden staff for many years. Goodall received critical praise for his conducting of these performances, which helped to rejuvenate his later career. The cycle had a new translation by Andrew Porter, and designs by Ralph Koltai which were generally welcomed as striking, while avoiding what some have seen as the gimmickry of later productions. The performances were recorded for commercial release on HMV (reissued by Chandos on CD). The singers included Norman Bailey, Rita Hunter and Alberto Remedios.

In 2004-05, for the first time in 30 years, Wagner's Ring returned to the stage in English, coinciding with the company's 30th anniversary as English National Opera. Following staged concerts over the previous three seasons, Music Director Paul Daniel led the company in a new production by Phyllida Lloyd, designed by Richard Hudson with lighting by Simon Mills, performed in the new ENO translation by Jeremy Sams. The Rhinegold, The Valkyrie and Siegfried were all staged in 2004, the Coliseum centenary year, and the production of Twilight of the Gods completed the new cycle in Spring 2005. The production was notable for its use of contemporary minimalist sets and costumes. Some critics described Lloyd's Cycle as superior to that at the Royal Opera Housemarker, although many others thought it was muddled and that its "relentlessly trivialising" approach served only to belittle the work. It was also criticised as being poorly sung and conducted.

Gilbert and Sullivan

ENO (and its predecessor, Sadler's Wells) has to date staged six of the thirteen extant Gilbert and Sullivan operas. To coincide with the end of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's monopoly when the copyright lapsed at the end of 1961, Iolanthe was staged. The production was given as far afield as Belgium and Germany (1962) and Amsterdammarker, Viennamarker and Praguemarker (1965). The Mikado followed shortly afterwards. Patience was the next addition, in 1969, and was much revived in London and on tour in the UK and on the continent. In a second, 1987, production of The Mikado, directed by Jonathan Miller, the role of the Lord High Executioner was performed by comedians Eric Idle and Bill Oddie and later by G&S specialist Richard Suart. The tenor Bonaventura Bottone performed the role of Nanki-Poo in 98 performances of the production, in both London and Venice between 1987 and 2004. This production – set in the 1930s at an English seaside resort, with black and white sets and costumes – is regularly revived. A production of Princess Ida directed by Ken Russell was a critical and box office failure and ran but briefly. The Pirates of Penzance was produced in 2005, but no revival has been announced. A production of The Gondoliers directed by Martin Duncan opened in 2006 to friendly reviews.


See also the article on the Coliseum Theatremarker.

The Coliseum Theatre, near Trafalgar Squaremarker, is one of London's largest and best-equipped theatres. It opened in 1904, the creation of the most powerful theatre manager of the day, Oswald Stoll, and the foremost theatre architect, Frank Matcham. Their ambition was to build the largest and finest 'People's palace of entertainment' of its age. English National Opera moved into the theatre in 1968. In 1992, ENO bought the theatre for £12.8 million. The theatre underwent extensive renovations between 2000 and 2004 and has the widest proscenium arch in London.

The former Decca Studiosmarker in West Hampsteadmarker, now known as Lilian Baylis House, are used for ENO rehearsals. During the tenure of English National Opera this building suffered from many years of neglect and was in a poor state of repair. In 2008 extensive work was undertaken on the heating and ventilation systems and the electrical system. Redecoration has also begun.


eno baylis is the education department of ENO. They involve around 12,000 people every year in a wide range of projects, events, courses and performances, with a goal of developing creative responses to opera and music theatre; making new work with communities and exploring individual creativity as a means of providing access to ENO's productions; and encouraging learning and development through participation of artists and collaboration of resources.

Music directors

See also


  1. Hewitt, Ivan. "Elder statesman", Telegraph, 3 May 2004.
  2. Richard Morrison, "Gladiator at the Coliseum". The Times, 11 January 2005.
  3. Reynolds, Nigel. "ENO musical director resigns", Telegraph, 5 December 2003.
  4. Honigsbaum, Mark. "Chaos at the Coliseum after shock resignation of ENO artistic director", The Guardian, 30 November 2005.
  5. Malvern, Jack. "ENO boss exits on a low note", The Times, 30 November 2005.
  6. Malvern, Jack. "ENO chief sacked before he starts", The Times, 29 December 2005.
  7. Christiansen, Rupert. "Chairman of opera house defends his record as he quits", Telegraph, 22 December 2005.
  8. Canning, Hugh. "Opera: Billy rides the storm", The Times, 11 December 2005.
  9. Christiansen, Rupert. "The arts column: The man who is eroding ENO's identity", Telegraph, 15 March 2006.
  10. Morrison, Richard. "Young star takes baton in gamble to revive ENO", The Times, 8 March 2006.
  11. "Under-30s rush for cheap seats at the ENO", London Standard, 19 September 2008
  12. Gilbert and Sullivan Journal, September 1965, p. 304

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