Fresh thinking and new ideas: by John Berry

August 11, 2008


Having time and space to read is a treat. I can’t read on the move, fitting in a page here and there, blotting out noise and bustle. All too distracting. Peace and quiet, a sense of calm, having a good run at several chapters is for me fertile ground to tackle a frustratingly growing pile of books. 

Reading on a plane maybe, a train, never on the tube and occasionally late at night.  

Now with some space this summer to reflect on 2008, reading is the most cathartic of pastimes. Yet it’s a contradiction. On the one hand you need concentration, yet it somehow clears one’s mind making space for fresh thinking and new ideas. That’s crucial for me, at the end of one season, and before the start of another.  With Mohsin Hamid’s thoughtful and gripping writing (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) I was off the starting blocks. It’s a relatively short novel: you can read it in a day and it was easy to immerse oneself in his gritty political insight. I had already read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of A Yellow Sun, and her sensitive and beautiful writing in The Purple Hibiscus was a treat.  Jonathan Coe’s The House of Sleep I found needs to be read in large chunks. It has a wonderful, but complicated plot, constantly shifting time periods and needs concentration. Yet it’s witty and intense, centred around a group of students who are drawn back together by a series of coincidences involving their obsession with sleep. A surprising and original book.  

However, reading this summer makes me think of my dear friend and colleague Anthony Minghella. I must be one of many who think about him daily. A wonderful man with a big heart, such modesty coupled with strength and integrity.  He was a writer at heart. Yes, a great director and producer, but every conversation with him centred around words. He wanted to tell a story and therefore writing a script, screenplay, radio play or synopsis for an opera was about how it would speak to an audience. His award-winning direction of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, which we are presenting again next year, is a wonderful legacy for ENO. His death is a great loss and everyone at ENO – in particular members of the Chorus who worked with him and our front of house staff with whom he built a close relationship – will miss him. 

Buraki Dancer Madam Butterfly

Buraki Dancer Madam Butterfly © Johan Persson / ENO 2005



Wedding Madam Butterfly
Wedding Madam Butterfly  © Johan Persson / ENO 2005

As we seek a new collaborator for the new opera by Osvaldo Golijov it makes me think that the role of the librettist in opera is often taken for granted. However, behind great operas are great stories and universal themes like solitude, loss and tragedy will always provide compelling narrative for music theatre. Identifying talented writers and working closely with them to create new work for the operatic stage is very much part of ENO’s future programming.  We want to create new work that has the potential to connect with a contemporary audience and sometimes reflect a certain mood of society.  Great works, such as John Adams’s Nixon in China and Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, have explored historic events and we look forward to the UK premiere of Dr Atomic next season.  We are currently developing a number of large-scale pieces with exciting writers and composers, some in collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera, ….but more about that later. More immediately, Lee Hall, who wrote Billy Elliot, has written a new version of Pagliacci, and the great poet and writer Sean O’Brien has done a new translation of Cavalleria rusticana. Our 2008/9 season will open with this new production of Cav & Pag, directed by Richard Jones.  Find out more about this and other Autumn productions with our new Digital Opera Guide.

Gerald Finley as Oppenheimer

Gerald Finley as Oppenheimer


Satyagraha © Catherine Ashmore / ENO 2007

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