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ENO to stage Philip Glass opera about the last days of Walt Disney

  • @MrNickClark

The English National Opera is set to stage a series of new works next year including a Philip Glass opera about the last days of Walt Disney and an experimental piece scripted by Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell.

ENO artistic director John Berry announced the highlights for the ENO’s 2012/2013 season today but admitted some works had been constrained by funding cuts.

Glass is currently working on his 24th opera The Perfect American, which will be staged in the UK in June next year. The piece, which is based on Peter Stephan Jungk’s semi-fictional novel, was commissioned by the ENO and Teatro Real Madrid to mark the composer’s 75th birthday.

Glass – described by the ENO as “one of the world’s most important composers” – said the life of the man behind Mickey Mouse was “unimaginable, alarming and truly frightening”.

The story follows cartoonist Wilhelm Dantine, who worked for Disney in the 1950s. The production does not have the rights to use Disney’s most famous characters, but it is likely to find a way to reference them. Berry said: “Glass is very interested in the impact that a personality of that order has on wider culture.”

Another new work is Sunken Garden, written celebrated author Mitchell, who has only ever written one libretto before: Wake at the Nationale Reisopera in 2010. With an electronic music score composed by Michael van der Aa, the live performances will include video and 3D film. The world premiere will be at the Barbican before it heads off on tour abroad.

There will also be a new version of Bizet’s opera Carmen updated to the 1970s while there will be a new production of Handel’s Julius Caesar for the first time in 30 years. The financial constraints may prevent the company from celebrating Richard Wagner’s bicentenary, as productions if the composer’s work “at every turn feel terribly expensive” Mr Berry said. “We are going to have to see how the future pans out. There will not be more money for opera.”

Mr Berry said there were “huge financial challenges” facing the organisation after its grant was cut ahead of last season and no prospect of a rise in the short term. “We’re £1.8m down. This is a small organisation. It’s a cottage industry compared to some of the bigger companies.” The company has moved to partner overseas organisations to help pick up the slack on some productions.

There is an increased uncertainty as the audiences tightened their belts in the current economic climate. “It feels at times like feast or famine. People are booking later and later,” Mr Berry said. “It’s a tough climate; this is the only topic of conversation with our European partners. Some of them are having to market for the first time.”

The organisation is also concerned, along with many in the arts, over the Government’s move to cap tax relief on charitable giving. “At a time when public subsidy is going down this is an issue. It will run and run,” he said.

Yet the ENO artistic chief remained upbeat. He said: “2012 shows a big investment into ENO’s work by the company. It is nurturing British talent.” Next year also marks the bicentenary of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth and the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s and the new season at the ENO will mark it with La Traviata and Death in Venice.