Newest Review: ... from 6pm, choosing from The American Bar on the lower ground floor, which serves modern British food, or the Sky Bar on the Upper Circle ... more
A National Treasure
English National Opera in general
Member Name: glitter_princess
English National Opera in general
Date: 20/02/09, updated on 20/02/09 (1307 review reads)
Advantages: Accessible staging, good balance in programming, great education programmes
Disadvantages: Singing is not always consistently amazing
English National Opera's home is the Coliseum on St Martin's Lane, just off Trafalgar Square, so easily accessible from Charing Cross Station (Mainline or underground) or bus routes 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 53, 77a, 88, 91, 139, 159, 176, or if you're travelling by car, ENO patrons receive a 50% discount at nearby carparks if you validate your car park ticket at the box office. This includes carparks at Cavendish Square, Poland St (Soho), Newport Place (Chinatown), Marble Arch, and Park Lane.
The entire theatre underwent a major renovation a few years ago and is in my opinion one of the best theatres in the West End. You can see the globe that sits on top of the Colisuem all lit up at night and it does look lovely. Although the building itself is not quite as architecturally stunning as the Royal Opera House, it does look beautiful, with gorgeous red carpets covering the floor and sweeping majestic staircases. There are two lifts to all levels for those who find stairs difficult. The theatre dates from 1904 and has been beautifully restored. The auditorium is decorated with fabulously intricate moulding, lots of gilding and beautiful purple velvet drapes and looks thoroughly impressive.
There are a number of bars on various levels for pre-theatre drinks, and they're not too ridiculously priced. They open one hour before performances. Diners can reserve their table from 6pm, choosing from The American Bar on the lower ground floor, which serves modern British food, or the Sky Bar on the Upper Circle level serves lighter meal options. I've not eaten at the Coliseum myself, as I prefer to get something quick elsewhere, but the dining seems to be laid back and unfussy.
I think opera gets a bad rap from the public, who often see it as the realm of the posh and snobby. I think ENO does a really good job to dispel that myth - the atmosphere is laid back but exciting, the staff are down to earth and helpful, and while you always get one or two snooty members of the audience, generally the audience has a nice cross section of society attending. The dress code for ENO is fairly casual - last time I went in jeans and my Ugg boots, so no need to feel you have to get dressed up! Of course, there will be people dressed up, so if you want to go formal you can!
The auditorium is huge - there are 4 levels, the Stalls at the bottom, and moving up, the Grand Circle, the Upper Circle and the Balcony. I do find with the Coliseum that wherever you sit, the view tends to be quite good, as the stage itself is so big and the seats are well positioned, so unless you are unlucky enough to sit behind a rude leaner forward (in which case give them an equally rude whack on the head!) you should have a pretty good view. Seat prices for different productions will vary, but you can expect to pay around £86 for a stalls ticket, between £65-£86 for the Grand Circle, between £21-£60 for the Upper Circle and £15-£21 for the Balcony. The seats are reasonably comfortable with (for a London theatre!) a reasonable amount of leg room.
I think ENO tend to get a good balance in their programme, combining the 'standard' popular operas with a couple each season which are more adventurous. This season for example, they are performing a new production by Jonathan Miller of La Boheme, and Nicholas Hynter's revived production of The Magic Flute, alongside John Adam's Doctor Atomic and Janácek's Jenùfa. I'm hoping to get to see Britten's Peter Grimes in May and also Anthony Minghella's production of Madama Butterfly when it returns in June.
All performances are sung in English and have English surtitles. While ENO have come under a lot of criticism for this, with people saying it shows a lack of confidence in the diction of their singers, I do think it's a good idea - the nature of opera means that in ensemble singing you often cannot understand everything that is being sung, and as a soprano reaches her upper register, naturally diction will suffer. The surtitles mean that there is that backup in case you didn't quite catch something. Any seats where surtitles aren't visable will advise you on booking. The English translations are always carefully thought out and updated - I hate hearing English translations in poorly translated, old fashioned English - and are so popular ENO actually publish them in their Opera Guides.
The productions themselves I think are generally of a very high standard. I like the fact that ENO have a tendency to perform operas in a modern (or twentieth century) setting wherever it seems they have the opportunity as I do think it makes them more accessible (my boyfriend who likes opera but certainly doesn't love it tends to prefer operas at ENO than the Royal Opera House). Occasionally they've had a few productions that go down the controversial route (the Don Giovanni directed by Calixto Bieto which included a scene with the Don shooting up, as well as numerous sex scenes - not entirely inappropriate for Don Giovanni, but I suspect just thrown in for shock value) but the productions I've seen lately have all been beautifully done. I saw Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci and remember thinking how perfectly Pagliacci had been translated in both setting and in the libretto. If I'm honest, I don't always find the standard of singing at ENO to be of a truly international standard, and doesn't quite come up to the standard that I expect when I go to the Royal Opera House. But then that's why tickets tend to be slightly cheaper at ENO! For example, we recently went to see the revival of The Magic Flute (which we had seen on a previous run), and while Roderick William's Papageno was superb, and Sarastro and the Three Ladies also very good, the Queen of the Night was rather disappointing, as was Tamino. The staging however was wonderful - all bustling period dresses and perfectly capturing the fantasy element of the opera.
But where ENO far outstrip the Royal Opera House is in the amount of emphasis they place on their education programme and the way in which they attempt to introduce young people to the opera. ENO Bayliss (their education programme) runs family events, pre-performance talks, and training programmes for young singers. Many of these are completely free of charge. When I was studying for my Masters, we were given free access to attend a number of rehearsals which was really interesting and enjoyable (and even meant we sat a level down from my usual Upper Circle seat!). ENO also run a wonderful, but massively under publicized, scheme called Access all Arias. Ignore the cheesy name - this is a fantastic completely free to join scheme for under 30's and full-time students to get reduced price seats! Just go to http://www.eno.org/accessallarias/main.html and sign up and you will receive a membership card in the post. Seats are offered at £30 for stalls, £20 for Dress Circle, and £10 for Upper Circle which, as you'll see from the regular prices listed above, is a fantastic price. As a member you qualify for 2 discounted tickets to each performance and a half price programme on production of your membership card. You just need to make sure you get in early and book, as they will have a certain number of these seats allocated for each performance.
All in all, I would thoroughly recommend English National Opera, and it's the perfect introduction for those new to opera. Careful though, it may be the start of an expensive addiction!
Summary: Get thee to the opera!
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