sun 23/06/2024

Mark Wigglesworth for ENO | reviews, news & interviews

Mark Wigglesworth for ENO

Mark Wigglesworth for ENO

One of the great underrated conductors of our time set to take up a big London post at last

Wigglesworth: deep soundSim Canetty-Clark

This is great news. It should have been great news back in 2006-7, when Wigglesworth – Mark, not to be confused with the young, photogenic Ryan, composer and, when I last saw him, barely competent baton-wielder - was among the contenders for the post of Music Director at English National Opera. As it happened, the then relatively unknown Edward Gardner sailed into the job with precocious assurance and versatility.

Gardner leaves at the end of the 2014-15 season to take up a post with the world-class Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Only his Mozart has been uncertain; but he has given us, among others, a glowing Rosenkavalier and a Peter Grimes where the brass playing beggared belief.

Wigglesworth, taking over in September 2015, conducts Mozart - at least as testified by a fast but beautifully articulated Così fan tutte for Matthew Warchus’ perfectly-cast ENO production - as well as he does Britten; the Glyndebourne Grimes of 2000,  much contested at the time, turns out on CD to be the deepest of them all, the composer’s included.

Scene from Wagner's Parsifal at ENODepth of sound distinguishes the Wigglesworth style as much as flexibility: on a visit to my students at the City Literary Institute to talk about Parsifal, the ENO revival of which (Nikolaus Lehnhoff's production pictured right by Richard Hubert Smith) garnered him high praise here as well as elsewhere, he admitted that the lower registers of the orchestra had always appealed to him most. There were big, shattering sounds when he conducted Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at ENO, a stunning partnership with the much-underrated soprano Vivian Tierney and one of the achievements of which he remains proudest. He hasn’t returned to the company often enough, but those performances and the beauty of orchestral sonority for David Alden’s new production of Janáček’s Katya Kabanova were more than enough to have earned him his laurels here.

There are rumours of some difficult orchestral partnerships, possibly because he is a hard taskmaster; but his manner in conversation is humorous, engaged, always conscious that the works come first. He’s also the kind of conductor, like Vladimir Jurowski, who likes to be there from the first piano rehearsals. The hope is that he’ll team up with our only visionary of the stage, Richard Jones, and emulate the powerhouse ethos of ENO in the 1980s. Before the news broke, he told me his greatest wish is to conduct a new production of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung. The hour-plus orchestral tour of the tetralogy he conducted at the Barbican was unexpectedly wonderful, so let’s hope this is the place to realize that dream. Before that there’s Britten's Owen Wingrave at Snape Maltings during the Aldeburgh Festival, directed by Neil Bartlett, and something very exciting - to me, at any rate - at the Royal Opera in the autumn which we can’t talk about yet.

ENO had a bad run at the start of the season with Calixto Bieito’s curate’s-egg Fidelio and Christopher Alden’s dark Fledermaus seeing half-empty houses, followed by the equally over-sombre Complicite Magic Flute and reports are that financial health is, to put it mildly, poor. But ENO has weathered worse storms than this, and the news itself should be enough to provide a fillip.

Mark Wigglesworth by Ben EalovegaWe asked Mark Wigglesworth (pictured left by Ben Ealovega) for some lines on his appointment, and this is what he wrote:

"I have been going to ENO's performances for over 30 years, and conducting some of them for almost half that time. The philosophy of the company has always been close to my heart. At its core is a commitment to performing the widest range of operas to the highest possible standard to the widest range of people. I believe ENO's productions and their audiences share a diversity, curiosity, knowledge and passion that give every night a sense of occasion - something so important given our time's dangerous potential for homogeneity.

"I am particularly looking forward to being part of the company's privileged responsibility for nurturing the next generation of young British singers. The bond that develops over time between loyal singers and loyal audiences allows the Coliseum to be a place where people can do their best work and to be within that environment is as stimulating as it is rewarding. ENO is rightly proud of its past and I feel immensely excited to be part of its future."


Theartsdesk will be talking to Wigglesworth about his completion of a trenchant Shostakovich cycle later this year, but in the meantime turn the page for a sample of his thoughtfulness talking to Jasper Rees about Parsifal.


I'm grateful to David Nice for pointing me to Mark Wigglesworth in time to see and hear him conduct the Juilliard Orchestra in a brilliant performance of 20th-21st C works culminating in Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem. How smart of ENO to engage him. If he was a hard task-master with the students at Juilliard, all I saw was the thrill they all felt at the result. It was unforgettable. Lucky, lucky ENO.

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