ENO's new musical director will only do the job part-time

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A man raised in Switzerland by a Russian father and an Italian mother is about to become only the second foreigner to lead the one British opera company which sings in English.

Oleg Caetani, whose name will be comparatively unknown to British audiences, will be named musical director of English National Opera today, replacing Paul Daniel, who announced his intention to leave more than a year ago.

Caetani, the son of the Russian conductor and composer Igor Markevitch, is following the lead of Charles Mackerras, the Australian much loved by British audiences, by heading the company which has recently reaffirmed its commitment to singing in English and presenting British works.

To the surprise of some commentators concerned for the musical direction of the opera house, Caetani will share his time with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, where he has just been made artistic director for three months a year.

Some believe that the ENO, which the Arts Council rescued from near bankruptcy two years ago, would benefit from a full-time musical director steeped in the British repertory and accustomed to the workings of British opera houses, which have less funding than their continental rivals. Caetani's two previous music directorships were in the German houses at Wiesbaden and Chemnitz.

However, Sean Doran, the artistic director and chief executive of ENO, who was himself criticised for his lack of experience in British opera houses when he was appointed, said that he was thrilled at the choice.

As Caetani is to move to Britain from his home in Italy and is already keen on music being performed in the language of the audience, Mr Doran said that he foresaw no problems. "I see him as the best and the most exciting candidate for us to have," he said. "He has an absolute wealth of operatic experience, even though he's very young for a conductor at 48."

Caetani previously conducted Khovanschchina at the ENO in 2003 and was scheduled to conduct a Vaughan Williams opera in the next season even before talks began over his candidacy for the post.

Some opera insiders expressed surprise yesterday that Richard Armstrong, who has just resigned from the same job at Scottish Opera, had not been snapped up. However, he has been as much criticised for the profligacy of his recent Ring Cycle as acclaimed for its musical brilliance.