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The English National Opera (ENO) is rethinking how to stage productions for the current self-distancing environment. A lot depends on when driving restrictions might be lifted.

Mark Brown writes at the Guardian, “English National Opera (ENO) has announced plans for what are thought to be the world’s first drive-in opera performances.

“Planned for the first three weeks of September, the idea is to stage live performances in the grounds of Alexandra Palace, north London, with musicians and singers spaced out to conform with physical distancing guidelines. If successful, ENO hopes to roll out the ‘Drive & Live’ concept to other parts of the UK.

“Stuart Murphy, ENO’s chief executive, told the Guardian it was part of the company’s mission of ‘opera for everyone.’ He said: ‘It is a bit of an experiment and if it works it might be a way of bringing the art form to people in a totally different and authentic way.’ …

“The idea is that the audience would be in 300 cars, with the bigger vehicles at the back. People on motorbikes and pedal cycles would also be allowed. Then windows go down and the audience watches the live performance unfold on a specially constructed set.

“The audience reaction could be interesting, Murphy said. ‘Instead of clapping or shouting “bravo,” it might be that people flash their lights or honk their horn. As long as it’s authentic, we’re not going to force it.

“ ‘I think it could attract a whole new generation to opera, people who love their car, see it as an extension to themselves.’ …

“Murphy said if the concept worked, then he could see drive-in operas being staged at racecourses or historic properties. ‘We’ve also had a couple of really productive conversations with international opera houses who think we’re on to something. It is an attempt to square the circle and let people have a big collective moment while staying safe.’

“The first 12 performances will be a shortened 90-minute version of Puccini’s La Bohème and a one-hour family-friendly version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

The first show will be free for National Health Service and frontline workers. …

“Murphy, who joined ENO in 2018 after a career in TV [said] all arts companies needed now to be ‘nimble and quick’ and react to circumstances, but at the moment ENO was not planning for seats being empty. …

“Some countries have allowed drive-in cinemas to remain open during the lockdown. Germany, for example, has two year-round operations, in Essen and Cologne. According to the Hollywood Reporter, both have sold out for every screening since Germany’s lockdown was declared. Makeshift drive-ins are also popping up around the country.

“In the US, the spiritual home of the drive-in, fewer than 25 of the nation’s 320 drive-ins are reportedly open for business, but that could change. The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, said [in April that] he would consider allowing drive-ins to reopen. ‘Where is the public safety issue? It’s a drive-in theatre. You’re in the car with the same people,’ he said.”

Photo: Donald Cooper/Photostage
An English National Opera production of
The Magic Flute in the Good Old Days of 2019. Today ENO operas must take Covid-19 and social distancing into account.

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Photo: English National Opera
Young people have fun participating in the English National Opera’s Opera Squad.

Anything that engages young people in the arts — and helps them to start on a lifetime devotion — has my vote. As arts organizations struggle to increase their base of enthusiasts and bring in a new demographic, they might look at the idea of “free.”

Mark Brown writes at the Guardian that as of last December the English National Opera will “offer under-18s free Saturday night tickets in what it has called a ‘seismic’ initiative to attract the next generation of fans. …

“Stuart Murphy, the former channel controller of the youth channel BBC Three who joined ENO as CEO in March, said the initiative stemmed from the company’s core values.

“ ‘We were founded on the belief that opera is for everyone,’ he said. ‘Removing cost as a barrier to entry for under-18s is a seismic leap forward for ENO and for opera as a whole. … We want young audiences to feel alternately passionate, excited and transfixed. We can’t wait to welcome them to the London Coliseum.’

“All the free tickets will be for what might be called the cheap seats in the balcony. But ENO contends the balcony ‘is widely regarded as having acoustically the best seats in the house.’ There will also be no peering round columns as, uniquely, all seats at the Coliseum have unrestricted views of the stage.

“Anyone who is under 16 will need to be accompanied by an adult. But any adult who purchases a full-price ticket in the balcony … will be able to take up to four children for free. Teachers bringing a school group can be accompanied by 10 children for free. Young people aged 16-17 can book one ticket each.

“The tickets will be available for all of the 11 Saturday performances in the spring 2019 season, which includes productions of La Bohème, Akhnaten, The Merry Widow, The Magic Flute, and the new opera Jack the Ripper: the Women of Whitechapel. …

“The ENO initiative will be welcomed by those who argue that the best way to get young people hooked is for them to experience the art form itself.

“Graham Vick, the artistic director of Birmingham Opera Company, has described conventional outreach and education work as a ‘barrier’ to reaching new audiences. ‘You do not need to be educated to be touched, to be moved and excited by opera,’ he said. ‘You only need to experience it directly at first hand with nothing getting in the way.’ ”

Not sure I agree with that last comment. I was 14 at my first opera, La Bohème, and it meant nothing to me. At the very least, I think it would help if kids heard the music in the background at home or school for some days before attending a performance. I could be wrong. No doubt they will all get into Jack the Ripper without help!

More at the Guardian, here.

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I am taking a playwriting class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education with Peter Littlefield, who also does a lot of directing. Here is an opera (Handel’s “Partenope”) he co-directed at the English National Opera. I wish I had a real video, but this is what I could find on YouTube.

I just had one class so far, and it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. The students are an interesting mix of ages and backgrounds, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know everyone. One woman, as it happens, teaches in a Boston elementary school where I volunteer.

I really like Peter’s sort of associative approach to playwriting, in which you mess around with images and ideas that interest you, then set them aside while you play with different images and ideas, and ultimately see how they converge. To me the attraction is that you’re less likely to get bored with what you are doing than if you were trying to force an idea into a structure. (I really am sick of writing coaches who harp on “structure.” I believe a structure will emerge.) We did a really funny exercise for openers.

Although I have often tried to write plays, the only actual class I ever had was in writing for TV, which I took while getting a master’s in communications at Syracuse’s Newhouse School. It was all about the formula: one, two three, gag (joke); one, two three, gag; one, two three, gag. Spirit crushing.

For fun, watch the first few minutes of opening-night comments on my teacher’s production of Partenope.

Comments may be sent to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com. I will post them.

Asakiyume comments: I’m so excited about this playwriting class. You must have such a great sense of theater from *watching* so many plays, and you’ve definitely got stories to tell. I hope you’ll share any scripts that you do write.  (Your thing about television screenplays, with the “one, two, three, gag” made me laugh because of the alternative meaning of gag–which is what, of course, someone with an artistic vision and free spirit must surely do if trapped with such a formula.)

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