Arts world toasts cautious rebirth of London Coliseum

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The Independent Culture

One might expect an opera house to celebrate its rebirth with an opera. But after the last few sanguinary months it was no surprise to find the Coliseum reopening on Saturday with one semi-staged scene, oceans of free champagne and some very careful speeches.

English National Opera has a lot to be careful about. It has been bailed out of bankruptcy by the Arts Council, seen a strike by its chorus, suffered 80 redundancies, acquired a new chief executive, and announced the forthcoming (and unexplained) departure of its music director.

It was due to reopen early this month with Peter Sellars's production of John Adams's Nixon in China. A building delay cut the production's run in half. A further delay knocked the show out altogether. ENO would relaunch itself instead with a jolly medley and its official opening would be marked by item two on the production agenda, the long-awaited Rhinegold, on Friday next week.

The first careful speech was by Sean Doran, ENO's newly appointed chief executive, whose optimism was well received by the audience, many of whom had helped finance the refurbishment of Frank Matcham's Romanesque People's Palace. They included the transvestite potter Grayson Perry as well as the ranks of the arts world's great and good. Other guests were Princess Alexandra, the Duke of Kent and someone looking very like Charles Kennedy. A pasty-faced Tony Blair greeted them from the programme with some choice words about "ENO's mission".

The next speech came from the outgoing music director Paul Daniel, who praised last year's choral mutineers as they sat behind him waiting to perform. James Naughtie, of Radio 4's Today programme, interviewed an embarrassed architect over the restoration. A single scene from Nixon in China featuring the ENO stalwarts Janis Kelly and Gerald Finley followed.

There was some debate afterwards as to whether a few Puccini arias would have been more appropriate, but none about the excellence of the house's new glass-roofed Sky bar, named after the biggest corporate donor in its history.