Opera chief's contract extended to 2001

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The board of the English National Opera has extended the contract of the company's general director, Dennis Marks. He will now be in post until 2001.

The new five-year contract signals a turnaround in Mr Marks's fortunes. When he joined the company from BBC Television three years ago, he was compared unfavourably with his predecessors, the so-called "Powerhouse" regime of Peter Jonas.

Attendances declined at first and last year his music director, Sian Edwards, resigned amid rumours of a personality clash between the two.

But Mr Marks has now overseen a rise in ticket sales which have reached the same level as the late Eighties, and yesterday announced a new season with seven new productions, an unusual feat among subsidised companies. Mr Marks said yesterday that he was still not convinced the ENO should remain at its home, the London Coliseum near Trafalgar Square in central London, even though it was bought for the company by the Government before the last election. He has commissioned a feasibility study to see whether the company should move to another London venue.

However, no move will be made in the near future. The ENO's chairman, John Baker, pledged that the company would stay at the Coliseum for the next five to seven years. "We will ensure there is not a double closure here and at Covent Garden," he said.

He was referring to the Royal Opera company which will have a wandering existence between theatres and concert halls for two years from the start of its 1997-8 season while its Covent Garden Theatre in central London is redeveloped.

The ENO season opens on 12 September with a new production by Jonathan Miller of Verdi's La Traviata, which promises "a claustrophobic view of the Victorian world as viewed through the lenses of 19th- century photographers".

Another highlight will be the first British production of the German composer Zimmerman's Diesoldaten (The soldiers), hailed as a "musical landmark of this century".

Reflecting the composer's hatred of militarism it calls for huge resources and inventive staging involving video, electronic tapes and simultaneous action.

Other new productions will be of Rossini's Italian Girl in Algiers, Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato and a new British opera by Gavin Bryars, Dr Ox's Experiment about an injection of laughing gas into the atmosphere of a sleepy town in Flanders.