David Lister: Director's troubles are partly self-inflicted

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The Independent Online

For the artistic director of the English National Opera to lament the state of opera in London is a bit like the head of British Airways criticising the state of baggage handling at Terminal 5. If it isn't your fault, whose fault is it exactly?

There are just two dedicated opera houses in London, the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum, the latter being home to the ENO, of which Mr Berry is artistic director. Whatever the failings of London opera, Mr Berry must take precisely 50 per cent of the blame.

Yesterday he preferred to point the finger the media, saying that its unforgiving stance to new work and new approaches in opera puts off film directors from taking on opera productions. It's hard to know where to start with such a breathtaking distortion of the ENO's recent troubles.

For a start, Mr Berry's ENO seems to have tried to avoid staging opera, conservative or otherwise. For a long period last year, there were more performances of musicals (On The Town and the horrifically ill-judged Kismet, a musical comedy set in Baghdad) than there were of operas.

Second, if the ENO has been successful in one area recently, it is with film directors, such as Anthony Minghella's sumptuous Madam Butterfly and Sally Potter's challenging, multi-media Carmen. Just how many film directors does he want? And when he says that not just film directors but "directors in the arts" avoid opera, have the names Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Nicholas Hytner, Deborah Warner and Adrian Noble slipped his mind?

Besides, it is a false equation to say that radicalism equals film directors. There are outstanding and innovative opera directors around, such as David McVicar and Richard Jones. And if Mr Berry reads up on the glory days of his own institution, the ENO, in the 1980s, he will find that "the powerhouse", as it was known, achieved success through a confident and clearly defined approach, mounting daring, radical and popular productions which reinterpreted classic opera, staging new works, and bringing in a new audience.

No one thought then that opera in London was conservative.