Michael White, voted Britain’s least boring music critic by listeners of Classic FM, comments in the Telegraph about the rush of first-time directors at the ENO.
It’s no bad thing to be an amateur: we all have things we like to do, however badly. But there comes a point when amateurs delight their audience too much. And there are areas of life that they’re better off avoiding in the first place.
If I go to hospital, I’d rather have my bypass done by a professional than by a keen enthusiast who’s handy with a knife. And if I go to the opera, I’d rather see a show directed by someone who knows what he’s doing, than by someone who likes Puccini and thought he’d give it a shot. Which has been the case at English National Opera in recent months.
The chief qualification for directing opera there at the moment seems to be that of never having done it before. It’s called innocence. According to ENO’s management, it brings a fresh perspective to familiar pieces, which may be true.
But it’s also a high-risk policy that hasn’t worked out well so far. These innocent directors come with past successes in the West End or in film and television, and assume their skills are easily transferred. But opera has its own rules – about story-telling, characterisation, movement, pace – all governed by the music. It’s a self-contained, self-referencing culture that you learn by paying your dues – ideally, as the Germans do in their strictly hierarchical system, starting with small things for small companies and working your way up to big things for big ones.
Marching straight on to a major stage with no inside experience of lyric theatre is a march to the scaffold. And audiences at the Coliseum have observed this happening time and again.
Photo: Mike Figgis, responable for the ENO’s Lucrezia Borgia, badly received by the citics
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.