Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Enough Already

July 12, 2007

Faith Prince as Lalume and Michael Ball as a Poet
Photo: Tristram Kenton/ENO 2007

Against my better judgment, I went through with seeing English National Opera’s productions of Kismet last night and am here to report that yes, it really is that awful. I’m not going to go on about the problems, which have been exhaustively laid out in the press (and for which Gert at mad musings of me has left an extensive list of links).

However, after reading a number of these reviews it brings up some thoughts. One of the recurrent themes in some of the published reviews for Kismet questions how the management of ENO could have thought to put on this revival at all. Some writers have gone further to draw conclusions about the overall course and management of the organization. But I don’t think that’s fair. I mean, far be it for me to criticize anyone who wants to write a negative review and heaven knows I have made my own unfair gross generalizations on more than a few occasions. But really does one (or really even several) bad productions necessarily mean that an arts organization as a whole is somehow inherently flawed in its management? Yes, Kismet is rather dated and offensive, but that hardly seems an unusual quality in opera or in works of musical theater considering how little new work is actually performed anywhere else. I mean let’s talk about ENO's Madame Butterfly that then traveled to New York. Certainly not a bad production but easily just as offensive as anything in Kismet.

ENO's management has received an especially hard time in the press over the last year and a half over making poor choices, and while I recognize I am an outsider who has seen little of the work in question first hand, I don’t see what all the grousing is about. This season alone contained a new commission on Gaddafi with a non-classical music approach and Glass’ Satyagraha. No matter what else one can say, it certainly seems ENO is taking risks. Maybe they aren’t always paying off but at least their trying. Nor do I see what the big deal is in opera houses or other stages reviving major works of musical theater.

Frankly, I’d rather see a whole year of misfires from a company taking risks than 90% of what most American companies put on. It might be argued that good management however comes down to taking the “right risks” yet, while that is true, I think anyone who starts to question what are “right” and “wrong” risks when it comes to art has pretty much eliminated the possibility of art from the equation to begin with. Others will complain about the public funding that goes to support ENO and whether it is good to use tax dollars to support what seem like in retrospect certain failures. That’s what government is supposed to do, isn’t it? Fund the risky stuff that no one else will in order to help promote the advancement of art and culture? If you want truly bad and boring opera, fund it with primarily private money like it is in the US and you’ll be Figaroed and Traviataed until you lose your mind.


I understand that ENO are very very relaxed about the box office bonanza from Kismet!
That may well be so. I can tell you that there were more than a few seats available on Wednesday. But it may have just seemed like a smaller crowd than it was due to the lack of audience laughter and applause.
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