English National Opera gives directors “the best conditions in the world for creating opera”, according to Artistic Director John Berry, speaking at the ENO’s 2013/14 season launch at the London Coliseum this morning. And there’s certainly a great sense of creativity surrounding the company’s latest programme, demonstrating their continuing commitment to innovation even in the face of financial adversity. Ten new productions for the company, apparently averaging “about one every three weeks”, should keep London opera-goers both new and old on their toes.

Terry Gilliam with the score of Benvenuto Cellini 2 © Richard Hubert Smith
Terry Gilliam with the score of Benvenuto Cellini 2
© Richard Hubert Smith

Perhaps most enticing of all is the return of Terry Gilliam, who will follow up from his 2011 smash hit Damnation of Faust with another problematic Berlioz piece, Benvenuto Cellini (June 2014). A virtual Gilliam amusingly stated that he preferred making films to operas, but the fruits of this collaboration will doubtless be unmissable all the same. A cast led by Michael Spyres and Corrine Winters (who was an “outstanding” Violetta this season) also features Willard White.

The season will open this September with Beethoven’s Fidelio in a production by notorious director Calixto Bieito, under the baton of ENO’s Music Director Edward Gardner. It didn’t get much of a recommendation from us in its 2011 Munich run, but it will be fascinating to witness it in the Coliseum, particularly with a cast including Stuart Skelton. Skelton will also play Peter Grimes in an enticing revival of David Alden’s production, and the other three revivals are all worthy ones as well: Anthony Minghella’s Madam Butterfly (October 2013) is the most familiar, but Philip Glass’ Satyagraha (November 2013) and Penny Woolcock’s production of The Pearl Fishers (June 2014) should both benefit from fresh viewings.

Other new productions include a Christopher Alden brace – Die Fledermaus in September and Rigoletto next February – and a replacement for Nicholas Hytner’s now-retired Magic Flute from director Simon McBurney, conducted by ENO Charles Mackerras Fellow Gergey Madaras (November 2013). ENO has also found a way to make Così fan tutte unmissable for new music fans: it will be conducted by contemporary specialist Ryan Wigglesworth, and reunites two contributors to George Benjamin’s hugely sucessful Written on Skin – director Katie Mitchell and librettist/translator Martin Crimp (May 2014).

River of Fundament © Hugo Glendinning
River of Fundament
© Hugo Glendinning

Contemporary opera fans have several other things to be excited about, including Thomas Adès’ now-classic Powder Her Face at new venue Ambika P3 next April, with Amanda Roocroft as the Dutchess. A film with music by Jonathan Bepler and visuals from artist Matthew Barney entitled River of Fundament, based on Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings, also promises some intrigue for next June. But most notable in new-music terms is British composer Julian Anderson’s first opera, Thebans, which will première in May 2014. With a libretto by Frank McGuinness and direction from Pierre Audi (current director of the Holland Festival), this new take on Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy is big news even looking beyond the world of opera. There will be something of a preview of this piece in Anderson’s new work Harmony, opening this year’s BBC Proms.

The Baroque offering is Handel’s Rodelinda next February with go-to Baroque conductor Christian Curnyn and director Richard Jones. Iestyn Davies and John Mark Ainsley are among the cast, and the production has a new creative co-producer in the Bolshoi Opera, Moscow.

This is further proof that in today’s economy, co-producting with other opera houses around the world is an idea set to stay. There was much information given this morning as well about the company’s financial state, which has been subjected to extreme scrutiny in recent months. It sounds like progress, financially speaking. Let’s hope that this year we can keep the focus on all the remarkable opera that ENO’s new season looks bound to have in spades.