Anthony Minghella is to direct his first opera in a coup for the much-troubled English National Opera company in London. The Oscar-winning film director will make his operatic debut in November next year directing one of the best-loved works in the canon, Madam Butterfly by Puccini.
Sean Doran, the English National Opera's artistic director and chief executive, approached the director of The English Patient with the project, which will bring a dash of movie glamour into a company that has been buffeted by financial troubles and mixed reviews. "Opera combines many arts and Minghella will bring to this collaboration his skills as a writer, musician and film director, which he has deployed to such effect throughout his distinguished career," he said.
Originally a scriptwriter for stage plays and television dramas including Grange Hill, Mr Minghella is not the first director to move between film and opera - Baz Luhrmann, the director of Moulin Rouge, staged Puccini's La Bohème on Broadway. But the move is still rare.
Working alongside the film director in his operatic endeavours are his wife, Carolyn Choa, as associate director and choreographer and the conductor David Parry, who encouraged him to make the move. Ms Choa has previously worked at the ENO as a dancer as well as on The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley. Another film colleague, Dante Ferretti, a designer on Cold Mountain and Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, will also work with him.
Mary Plazas, a regular guest artist at the London Coliseum, will take the title role in the production and Gwyn Hughes Jones will play Pinkerton, the American naval officer who marries Madam Butterfly but breaks her heart, and Christopher Purves will be Sharpless, Pinkerton's friend and the American consul.
Announcing the project yesterday, Mr Minghella said: "I am delighted to be making my debut as an opera director with ENO. The conductor David Parry is a close friend and has nourished my love of opera for more than 20 years. Mary Plazas is one of the most exciting singers in the country and it's thrilling to collaborate with her on her first Butterfly."
He thanked the ENO for allowing him to assemble "a tremendous team from around the world, one that will grow as we develop the production, and I can't think of a better opera to investigate, nor a more supportive and creative environment in which to work".
Minghella, who was due to attend last night's performance of the controversial Catalan director Calixto Bieito's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, also has a number of projects in development, including the screenplay for The Assumption, and he is also set to direct a screen adaptation of The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, a psychological thriller based on the book by Liz Jensen. He is deeply involved in arranging or producing the musical soundtracks to his films. When he was growing up on the Isle of Wight and later at Hull University, he performed on keyboards in local folk clubs and rock venues.