ENO takes on diversity with first ever Porgy

English National Opera is taking on racial diversity on stage, starting with its first ever production of the Gershwin brothers’ American classic black opera Porgy & Bess in its new season.

Apart from Porgy & Bess, of those so far cast in ENO’s 2018-19 programme, nine roles are going to black, Asian and minority ethnic singers in a deliberate move to set right the notorious racial imbalance in British opera productions, and there will be more in productions yet to be cast.

Portrait of Daniel Kramer by Tristram Kenton

ENO’s artistic director, Daniel Kramer, said he hoped Porgy & Bess,a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera and Dutch National Opera, would bring a new audience to ENO’s home, the Coliseum, and that the backgrounds of performers would reflect that of Britain at large.

“We think that this will be a hugely popular piece, and an incredible chance for the ENO and the entire UK industry” he said at the season launch today. “We are committed to the diversity of our opera house and making sure that every single person on that stage, behind it in management and on the board is a respecter of the culture outside this building”.

He said that as well as the 40 hand-picked members of the Porgy & Besscast the company wants to develop and nurture BAME talent in Britain want to make sure of developing and nurturing black, Asian and minority ethnic talent in this country through its educational work and its support schemes for  rising singers, musicians and conductors.

“But we're looking for a longer term story to make sure that we weave through these wonderful opportunities and feature this talent across the next three seasons together an dintot the future, and make sure that these artists become a vital part of ENO now and certainly tomorrow” he said 

Porgy & Bess is one of five new productions in the 2018-19 season, through which ENO also pays attention to women’s equality. ENO operates without an adverse gender pay gap – in fact, the hourly pay for women working in the company is 1% higher than for men. This gender neutrality repeats on stage, with three conductors in the new programme being women.

The Australian feminist director Adena Jacobs will make her UK debit with a radical interpretation of Strauss’s Salome, emphasising the female roles; and a new opera by Iain Bell and Emma Jenkins gets its world premiere,Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel, focussing on the lives of the murderer’s victims and featuring come of ENO’s leading opera stars including Josephine Barstow, Janis Kelly, Lesley Garrett, Susan Bullock and Marie McLaughlin.


Sir Jonathan Miller's popular La Boheme is back on the ENO stage

The chorus from Porgy & Bess will also be part of another first in the new ENO season, joining the ENO chorus and a 40-strong children’s choir, the Finchley Children’s Music Group, to present the first full staged production of Bitten’s War Requiemto mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice.

Kramer will direct, collaborating with the Turner Prize winning German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans whose work will provide the ambience for the presentation, a co-production with the National Performing Arts Center, Taiwan.

The fifth new production  is a new version of Lehar’s comedy The Merry Widow, directed by the Old Vic’s associate director Max Webster.

The season will also see a revival of Jonathan Miller’s  La bohème, making its third appearance on the Coliseum stage. David Alden’s Lucia di Lammermore, the 2017 Olivier-winner Akhnaten and Simon McBurney’sMagic Flute will also be returning.

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