Opera house takes the popular option: ENO seeks bigger audiences to cut pounds 2.3m deficit

THE NEW team heading the English National Opera yesterday announced its first season with a shift towards more popular operas to attract bigger audiences.

The ENO, which has an accumulated deficit of pounds 2.3m, will also hold seat prices at 1992-93 levels and introduce half-price seats for children. There will also be some performances beginning at 6pm to encourage people who live outside London to attend.

Productions in the season starting in August will include traditional favourites such as Puccini's La Boheme, which will be revived in the same season, Mozart's Figaro and Cosi fan tutte, Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Some are revivals but La Boheme and Cosi are new productions.

Sian Edwards, the new music director, said the part of Mimi in the new production of La Boheme will be played by the American singer Roberta Alexander, with the English singer Rosalind Sutherland taking over later in the season. She said at a press conference at the London Coliseum that it had proved difficult to find a soprano in England able and available to play one of Puccini's best loved roles.

Miss Edwards added afterwards: 'There is no one in the company here at the moment who could do it. The previous management operated a flexible policy, using outside people. Dennis Marks and I are more interested in bringing people towards the company and having a bigger roster to choose from.'

Referring to next season's repertory, she said: 'Of course popular operas are a way of bringing new people in. A large number of people have heard of Boheme even if they haven't seen it.'

Dennis Marks, who replaces Peter Jonas as director-general, said that he wanted to renovate the company's home at the London Coliseum, and would be launching a fund-raising campaign. Mr Marks added that he was budgeting for a surplus next year and this would be the first step towards paying off the deficit. The only real solution was to bring more people back to see opera performed by the company. Audiences fell by 6 per cent last year.

Highlights of next season's new productions include Wagner's Lohengrin, the first Wagner at the ENO for eight years, directed by Tim Albery; La Boheme directed by Steven Pimlott; Smetana's The Two Widows directed by David Pountney; Der Rosenkavalier produced by Jonathan Miller; the world premiere of Judith Weir's Blond Eckbert produced by Tim Hopkins and Janacek's Jenufa produced by Lucy Bailey.