fri 21/01/2022

Daniel Kramer for ENO Artistic Director: cause for cautious optimism? | reviews, news & interviews

Daniel Kramer for ENO Artistic Director: cause for cautious optimism?

Daniel Kramer for ENO Artistic Director: cause for cautious optimism?

Can the new incumbent hold out against the company's impoverishment?

Kramer: wants to encourage the healing process at ENO

Within the wounded, divided company of English National Opera – artists and administration still at loggerheads – the buzz is surprisingly positive. CEO Cressida Pollock does finally seem to be listening: union deputies from chorus and orchestra met the final candidates for the too-long-dormant role of Artistic Director.

From what I gleaned last night after the final blazing performance of Brahms's A German Requiem under the best Music Director I've seen at ENO in my lifetime, Mark Wigglesworth, they liked what they'd heard from the new incumbent, Daniel Kramer.

The 39-year-old American-born director's experience is limited to two ENO productions so far: an award-winning Young Vic staging of Birtwistle's Punch and Judy, in effect music-theatre for a small ensemble so not exactly an operatic litmus test, and the questionable Bluebeard's Castle in which the Fritzl premise was rammed home to unsubtle and ultimately wearing effect, though it started well (Ismene Brown disagreed in her review for theartsdesk. Pictured below by Johan Persson: Clive Bayley and Michaela Martens as Bluebeard and Judith). Much hangs on what he makes of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde over the coming weeks. Experience as director of an artistic enterprise: nil. The conventional route would have been via running a smaller outfit.

Scene from ENO Bluebeard's Castle

Yet chorus representatives warmed to Kremer's engaging manner in a briefing yesterday. He insists that he still wants the company to remain full-time – the prerequisite which drove Wigglesworth, a man of integrity, whatever disingenuous nonsense you may have read about him, to leave when the nine-month contract for the chorus was imposed. Kramer stated that all grievances must be aired and people must talk to each other before the wounds can begin to heal: that's a good start. And he seems very well-connected in the theatre and opera world, which is probably more important for an Artistic Director than how good his productions are.

There remains the question of a new Music DirectorHow this will marry with Pollock's seeming intransigence and what comes increasingly to seem not so much like a conspiracy theory as the awful truth – that the Arts Council, having deprived ENO of core funding, wants to see it run down so it can lay its hands on the London Coliseum – remains to be seen. Several promising candidates for the post withdrew after the first interview when they realised what compromises would be required; rumour has it that the figure who would have been the best choice of all – name not divulged to me – was led a merry dance and then brushed aside.

Much of the current debacle might not have happened if there had been an Artistic Director in place alongside Wigglesworth. For now, the chorus seems pleased. But then there remains the question of a new Music Director. They want Wigglesworth back, and one said very firmly last night that he would "return on a white charger, you'll see." I sincerely hope so.


Mark Wigglesworth is certainly the best conductor who has been ENO music director in my lifetime (and that includes Charles Mackerras and Mark Elder). But whether he is the best music director in all respects depends on what happens next. Let's hope he does indeed return on a white charger.

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