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The ever-accumulating appropriation of soprano repertory by Joyce DiDonato continues apace. Tonight, in Handel’s 1735 Alcina, the mezzo sang neither Ruggiero – the opera’s most demanding and extensive role, written for a castrato – nor that of Bradamante – surely the opera’s most beautiful, written for a contralto – but the title role itself, which in the last decade or so I’ve heard sung on stage by Renée Fleming and Anja Harteros. Given that Alice Coote sang Ruggiero, and Christine Rice Bradamante in this performance, the provision of mezzo-soprano voices was surely excessive, and one wonders why we couldn’t have had a genuine soprano Alcina and a counter-tenor Ruggiero to re-balance the higher voiced sonorities, with only a gleaming Anna Christy’s Morgana left to fly the flag for actual sopranos among the principals.


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ENO recently scooped two Olivier Awards (which doubtless tasted even sweeter for being held at the Royal Opera House): the Best New Opera Production for Rameau’s Castor and Pollux and the Outstanding Achievement in Opera award for ‘The Breadth and Diversity of the Artistic Programme’. That breadth and diversity is there in spades for the 2012-13 season, unveiled this morning at the Coliseum. Another bold, risk-taking season lies ahead, headed by two new works, ensuring this is no Mickey Mouse season!

Walt Disney is the subject of Philip Glass’ 24th opera, The Perfect American, a partly fictionalised account of his final years, mixed with surreal encounters. Based on Peter Stephan Jungk’s novel Der König von Amerika, the scope for controversy in telling the dying days of this iconic figure is ripe, especially as there is a leading role for a disgruntled Disney employee in the plot. Phelim McDermott and Improbable, who created the critically acclaimed production of Satyagraha, return to ENO to stage this new Glass opera, a co-commission withTeatro Real, Madrid. Christopher Purves creates the role of Walt Disney.

The second new opera is Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden, which will be staged in the more intimate setting of the Barbican Theatre. It explores the connection between the disappearance of a software engineer, a rich girl and a neurotic film-maker and will use video technology integrated with live performance. Roderick Williams stars alongside Katherine Manley.

Bold choices re directors has been a feature of recent ENO seasons. These continue with Rupert Goold’s new production of Berg’s Wozzeck, Peter Konwitschny’s heavily cut La Traviata (a production first seen in Graz) and Calixto Bieito’s Carmen, a Barcelona production which has been redesigned for London. There is also a return for Rufus Norris’ controversial production of Don Giovanni, which may puzzle many who saw it first time round.

New productions of operatic rarities are especially welcome; Vaughan Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress is not technically an opera at all, but anyone who saw the semi-staged production by the Philharmonia at Sadler’s Wells under Richard Hickox will attest to its powerful dramatic possibilities. Yoshi Oïda makes his directorial debut at ENO in what will be the first fully-staged professional production since the work’s 1951 premiere at the Festival of Britain. Another eagerly anticipated new production is Martinů’s Julietta, which takes place in a surreal, dreamlike world, to be directed by Richard Jones in a production first seen at Paris Opéra. Julia Sporsén, one of the newly announced ENO Harewood Artists, takes the title role.

After its Baroque success with Rameau this season, there is further exploration with a new production of Charpentier’s Medea, starring Sarah Connolly in the title role, conducted by Christian Curnyn, who also conducts the season’s other new Baroque production, Julius Caesar. David McVicar directs Medea, while Michael Keegan-Dolan takes on the Handel, which features a strong cast including Lawrence Zazzo, Anna Christy and Tim Mead.

Dr Jonathan Miller gets more productions than Verdi and Wagner put together, with revivals of The Barber of Seville, The Mikado and La bohème. Indeed, once the Royal Opera’s Ring is done and dusted, there will be no Wagner at London’s two main opera houses for the rest of the season. Other ENO revivals include an ‘absolutely last chance to see’ Nicholas Hytner’s evergreen production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and a welcome return for Deborah Warner’s Death in Venice, which has evolved on outings at La Monnaie and La Scala and returns to mark the start of ENO’s Britten centenary celebrations. Revivals are strongly cast, on the whole.

Ed Gardner, ENO’s Music Director, spoke of his admiration for the directors of the four productions which he himself conducts next season (Julietta, Death in Venice, Wozzeck and Don Giovanni) as well as words of praise for other conductors and artists featuring in the 2012-13 season.

John Berry, ENO’s Artistic Director, set his sights on ‘keeping ENO relevant and the exciting home for modern opera in London’. This challenging, exciting programme boldly throws down the gauntlet to that claim.

Mark Pullinger

Opera Britannia

Photographs © Getty Images (Disney); Antoni Bofill (Carmen); Yunus Durukan (Julietta)