An American in Aldeburgh

Best wishes go to Andrew Litton (right) who conducts the opening night of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd for English National Opera in London tomorrow. (Yes I know it isn't really in Aldeburgh, but why let the facts stand in the way of a good headline?).

The production, which is new to London, is the highly acclaimed joint Welsh National Opera and Opera Australia staging designed by Neil Armfield, and with Simon Keenlyside as Billy Budd heading the all-male cast.

American Andrew Litton received rave reviews for his conducting of Billy Budd in its performances at Welsh National Opera. Maestro Litton is of course no stranger to the UK, and did wonderful things as music director of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra between 1988 and 1994 - long before the orchestra and Marin Alsop were 'discovered' by the media and Naxos.

And of course Britten had close associations with the America. As this is being written on the fifteenth anniversary of Aaron Copland's death it is topical to note that Britten and Peter Pears gave the first performance of the first set of Copland's Old American Songs at the 1950 Aldeburgh Festival. Copland wrote of Britten: 'I thought of him as the voice of England, and he, in turn, considered me the American spokesman. We had many of the same sympathies, musical and other kinds, and we knew we faced similar problems' - how true.

All the signs are that Billy Budd will be a resounding success for English National Opera which has an enviable history of artistic excellence. My own operatic epiphany took place in the 1970's with their productions (in English) of the Ring under Reginald Goodall (it is scandalous that there is no acceptable biography of this fine, but controversial, conductor on the internet - add to task list Pliable), and a never-to-be-forgotten Mastersingers under Charles Mackerras. ENO desperately need a morale boost as they lurch into yet another management crisis with the shock resignation this week of their artistic director and chief executice Sean Doran. The current climate is so harsh for our cultural institutions as they fight falling attendances and sea changes in content distribution. Do they really need to contribute their own self-destruction to it?

And follow this link to today's Guardian editorial comment on the English National Opera's current problems.

Photo credit - Abeille Musique
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Henry Holland said…
Re: the Guardian article.

Really, why bother? Why doesn't opera just up and die already, so that it doesn't clog up huge buildings on Bow Street and St. Martin's Lane? /sarcasm

16 million pounds (sorry, I'm a Yank, I don't have the pound sterling key on my computer) is all ENO gets? And that's considered a *high* subsidy? Yikes.

As for Sean Doran, he was in over his head and never should have been hired in the first place. Of course, if he'd revived Birtwistle's incredible The Mask of Orpheus--which did turn away business in its only run--I'd be wailing and lamenting his departure, so, oh well.

I'm really, really getting bored to feckin' tears with these "the sky is falling" articles/editorials about the arts. Almost every art form I love--classical, opera, rock/pop music, theatre, jazz, movies--is said to be a dinosaur, on their way out as the pathetically sought after 25 year olds don't bother with them, as we await the Glorious Digital Revolution to usher us in to a new world of.....what, exactly?

What about going after 40-60 year olds with kids out of the house and money to spend on something other than an Oxbridge education for little Graham and Sarah? Oh, wait, I know why: those audiences aren't "sexy", they aren't "cutting edge", they're not something that Mega Corporations can sell disposable, worthless tat to.

I frankly don't give a toss if opera is "relevant" to some loathsome spotty juvenile in trainers and a tracksuit. It's pathetic to see ENO chasing after them, it's doomed to failure.

As John Cleese says in the great Monty Python "Dirty fork at the restaurant" sketch: It mades me mad.

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