Cash-strapped ENO banks on Bernstein to improve fortunes

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The Independent Culture

English National Opera will present its first production of Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice and the UK premiere of a Philip Glass work about Gandhi next season.

The modern works will be mixed with new productions of two popular classics, Verdi's La Traviata and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, in an attempt to satisfy audiences who appear increasingly unwilling to turn out for revivals.

Announcing details of the 2006-07 season yesterday, John Berry, the new artistic director, said: "It is important for us to appeal to the widest possible audience without compromising creativity."

Mr Berry, who was appointed by the ENO board four months ago after the ousting of Sean Doran as chief executive and artistic director, said there had been no confirmed programme in place when he took over and promised better forward planning. Loretta Tomasi, who took over the chief executive role, admitted that the company would have to balance the books better. She thought it unlikely ENO would receive any further bail-outs from the Arts Council which has injected around £20m "stabilisation" funding in recent years.

The return of its sell-out Leonard Bernstein show, On The Town, will undoub-tedly help finances. And Mr Berry announced a further foray into musicals with Kismet, the 1953 Broadway hit which has not been seen in London for 30 years.

The populist strand continues with a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers with the mezzo-soprano Ann Murray. But the season will also include Jenufa by Janacek, starring the British soprano Amanda Roocroft in her first appearance at the Coliseum since 1993, and Handel's Agrippina, a critically acclaimed production which is coming from Brussels.

Satyagraha, by Philip Glass, examines Gandhi's early life in South Africa, while Gaddafi, an opera commissioned by Sean Doran from Steve Chandra Savale and the Asian Dub Foundation is now scheduled to premiere on 7 September after a delay.

The work, which combines traditional Indian music with drum and bass, reggae and punk, will star the Irish-Indian rapper JC001 as Colonel Gaddafi and the actor Riz Ahmed.

Asked whether it would attract new audiences to opera, Mr Berry expressed doubts. "I don't know whet-her doing this type of project is the best way to engage people with opera," he said. "But the core of this piece is the composer. He's a very bright guy."

In another break with the ideas of his predecessor, John Berry said Britten would not be called the "house composer" although more of his works are being planned. Yesterday's announcement was the first public appearance of the new management team since their promotion from within ENO ranks.

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