The Show Goes On

February 10, 2009


Perhaps it was inevitable that, in the middle of one of the harshest winters on record, both temperature-wise and economically, the opening night of our new production of La bohème, directed by Jonathan Miller and set in the 1930s depression (with its own splattering of snow), should be temporarily postponed due to bad weather.


Snow being dropped from the Flys during Act III

But the Company’s spirit remained intact, the first night transferred to Wednesday 4 February (after hundreds of phonecalls!) and with it the first multi-channel broadcast of its kind.

We assembled a marvellous production team with SKY ARTS ( and DCD Media to produce two live broadcasts from in front and behind the stage, both going out live from the Coliseum. It was a risky project given the broadcast production team had complete access to our production, creative team and singers. With cameras present throughout the rehearsal period, it was always going to be a challenge but we never doubted it would be a success. In the event, the broadcast team became part of the production team and the Company as a whole were the stars of the show, with the broadcast revealing a truly unique insight into the workings of ENO. This came across wonderfully in the rich and varied ‘behind-the-scenes’ footage.

camera crew and cast at the live broadcast on opening night

camera crew and cast at the live broadcast on opening night

Penny Smith, the behind-the-scenes presenter, found a surprisingly sympathetic balance between keeping the back stage interviews serious and involving for a potentially new opera audience. She touched on some big subjects such as opera in English and plenty of fascinating snippets from how singers warm up to how much perfume first-night audiences wear! Front of House, Petroc Trelawny, with his knowledge of opera and experience of live broadcasting, presented the performance marvellously.

Penny Smith backstage

Penny Smith backstage

The broadcasts revealed that opera is a rich art form for such a transparent approach. So many wonderful personalities; the furious paddling below the water line of technicians, singers, musicians and stage crew; and the palpable tension leading up to the first bars of Puccini’s marvellous score.

We’ve had a wonderful response to the broadcast ( and from the public to the production ( Like all of Jonathan Miller’s productions (including the most enduringly popular like Rigoletto and The Mikado) the first reviews have been a bit luke warm, but the public love it and we expect it to run and run.

Meanwhile, as more harsh weather moves in this week, we turn to new challenges. John Adams’s Doctor Atomic premieres in the UK at the end of February with director Penny Woolcock ( and the superb Gerald Finley as Robert Oppenheimer and we begin rehearsals for a new work, directed by Katie Mitchell for the Young Vic theatre, which opens in April ( Going to the Young Vic last year was a daring new idea at the time but it paid off – winning us the South Bank Show Awards for best new opera. Snow or no snow, the show goes on.

John Berry

The Curtain Call seen by the cameras

The Curtain Call seen by the cameras

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