Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Singing Lesbians to Rescue Opera House

(Link) Promotional posters and flyers for the opera promise “sexual desire, dominance and submission”. No mention of drink specials or half price tickets on "Mullet Night."

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
Richard Brooks
UK Times Online Arts Editor

The troubled English National Opera plans to sing for its survival with the world premiere of a new opera about lesbian lovers that features nudity and sex.

ENO, which is only now emerging from a period of deficits of millions of pounds, is pinning hopes on The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, an operatic adaptation of the 1972 film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the cult German director.

The all-female production tells the story of a fashion designer, von Kant, who develops a crush on Karin, one of her models. It also portrays von Kant’s mistress/slave relationship with her mute assistant.

Promotional posters and flyers for the opera promise “sexual desire, dominance and submission”. They feature pictures of a semi-naked woman caressing a female mannequin.

The opera will open ENO’s new season next week at the 2,400-seat Coliseum in London’s West End. Over the past decade the company has been bolstered with almost £40m in extra public funding from the lottery and the Arts Council to refurbish the building and keep the company from closure.

“By putting this new work at the head of the season we want to make a bold statement,” said Sean Doran, chief executive and artistic director of ENO.

It is not so much the style of the work but the way it is being promoted that has upset opera buffs. Gerald Barry, the composer, and Richard Jones, its director, are highly rated. But with the hot summer promising to extend into September and the number of overseas visitors down after the July bomb attacks, London opera houses, like theatres and restaurants, are having trouble finding customers.

A few hundred yards away the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is advertising its new production of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West as if it were a Clint Eastwood film. It is being marketed under its English translation, The Girl of the Golden West, and the slogan “opera’s very own spaghetti western”.

John Allison, editor of Opera magazine, was dismayed at ENO’s use of sex to sell the opera. “This sort of marketing shows how desperate ENO has become,” he said. “Obviously they know how hard contemporary operas are to sell, but it does smack of a stunt.”

ENO could do with a quick return to grace. Nicholas Payne, Doran’s predecessor as artistic director, was sacked in 2002 amid mounting deficits. The chorus then went on strike over redundancies and ENO had to be bailed out to the tune of £10m by the Arts Council.

A refurbishment, part paid for by the lottery, ran late and the reopening night gala in February 2004 was marred by lacklustre performances.

“We need to get the people who usually go to the West End as well as winning over middle England,” said Ian McKay, ENO’s director of marketing.

The company is no stranger to controversial productions. Last year eyebrows were raised when it restaged Calixto Bieito’s production of Don Giovanni, which one critic likened to “a coke-fuelled fellatio fest” with drink, drugs and sex.

While ENO has a fairly traditional Magic Flute opening after The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, the following production of Madama Butterfly will be directed by Anthony Minghella, the Oscar-winning film-maker. This will be his first opera.

Minghella, who will be using Dante Ferretti, the production designer from his film Cold Mountain, has also made a short film to be used as a backdrop to the opera. “We will be selling the opera on its songs, many of which are far better known than those in musicals,” said McKay. These include The Humming Chorus.

The opening production of the 2006-7 season is likely to cause another controversy. Gadaffi: The Opera, the story of the life of the Libyan leader, is being put together by the Asian Dub Foundation, a rap group.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant will also annoy opera purists because it will be the first ENO production to use sur-titles, despite the fact that it will be sung in English. ENO says it has decided to introduce them as the text is dense and therefore quite hard to follow.

“Having them is defeatist,” said Allison. “People will look up at the words instead of concentrating on what is being sung.”