English National Opera


3. Scene from Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes at Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, 1963

4. Ring

5  .Rigoletto


7. Dutchman

8.  Siegfried


Sadller's Wells Touring Opera and English National Opera

1.   George Lascelles 1923 – 2011  (7th Earl of Harewood).  Managing Director at Sadller's Wells and English National Opera

Date ca 1995
Photographer: Unknown

2.   Johnathan Miller's iconic production of Guiseppe Verdi's 'Rigoletto' with imagery based on Edward Hopper, at English National Opera.

Date: 1982
Photographer: Unknown

3.    Sadler's Wells Opera production of 'Peter Grimes', mounted to celebrate Britten's 50th birthday. Ronald Dowd appears as the fisherman Peter Grimes.

Date: 1963
Photographer: Unknown

4.    Design by Ralph Koltai for Wagner’s opera cycle 'The Ring of the Nibelungs' at the London Coliseum.

Date: 1973
Photographer: Unknown.  This version of the image in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Ring of the Nibelungs was designed by Ralph Koltai for Sadler’s Wells Opera. The four opera cycle was produced over several years, but in 1973 it was standing room only when the company performed the complete cycle in English. Koltai’s sets, all gleaming rods and metallic spheres, with costumes incorporating perspex.

Setting of the final act of 'Rigoletto' in the production for Sadler's Wells Opera by Michael Geliot.  This production premiered in Manchester, transferred to Sadler's Wells Theatre and later to the Coloseum.   Settings by Annena Stubs, Lighting by Charles Bristow.

Date: 1968
Photographer: Unknown.  Images from the Rank Strand Archive

6.    '
The Coronation of Poppea' with Willard White as Seneca.

Date: 1976
Photographer: Unknown. Image from the Opera Archive

Setting by Robin Don  for Richard Wagner's 'Flying Dutchman' in Basil Coleman's production at the Coloseum

Date: 1980
Photographer: Unknown.  Images from the Rank Strand Archive

.8.    Setting by Ralph Koltai  for Richard Wagner's 'Siegfried (Act III)' in the English National Opera production at the Coloseum

Date: 1973
Photographer: Unknown.  Images from the Rank Strand Archive

English National Opera.

In 1945 the Sadler's Wells Opera returned to Sadler's Wells and concentrated on producing opera in English. Their first great success was the world premiere of 'Peter Grimes' which heralded the arrival of Benjamin Britten.

In the 1950s, Sadler's Wells Opera's productions of the great French operettas became hugely popular, notably Offenbach's 'La Belle Helène' and 'Orpheus in the Underworld' – with Orpheus descending into Hades strap-hanging on the London underground in the rush hour.

In 1968, Sadler's Wells Opera moved from its cramped base in Islington to the London Coliseum in the heart of London's West End. In 1974 the company became English National Opera.

In the 1980s at the Coliseum, David Pountney and conductor Mark Elder developed a more radical and idiosyncratic production style. Their operas had a cartoon-style energy and were very visual. This shocked some of the more conservative members of the opera-going public, but appealed to a new and younger audience.

Among the conductors associated with the company have been Sir Alexander Gibson, Colin Davis, Reginald Goodall, Charles Mackerras, Mark Elder and Edward Gardner.  ENO is known for its emphasis on the dramatic aspect of opera, with productions, sometimes controversial, by directors including David Pountney, Jonathan Miller, Nicholas Hytner, Phyllida Lloyd and Calixto Bieito.  In addition to the core operatic repertoire, English National Opera has presented a wide range of works, from early operas by Monteverdi to new commissions, operetta and Broadway shows.

Initially, the company that settled into the Coliseum, retained the title 'Sadler's Wells Opera'  They opened at the Coliseum on 21 August 1968, with a new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, directed by Sir John Gielgud. This was not well received, but the company rapidly established itself with a succession of highly praised productions. Stephen Arlen,the first managing director died in January 1972, and was succeeded by Lord Harewood.

The success of the 1968 'Mastersingers' was followed in the 1970s by the company's first Ring cycle, conducted by Goodall, with a cast including Norman Bailey, Rita Hunter and Alberto Remedios. The cycle had a new translation by Andrew Porter and designs by Ralph Koltai.  In Harewood's view, among the highlights of the first ten years at the Coliseum were the Ring, Prokofiev's 'War and Peace', and Richard Strauss's 'Salome' and 'Der Rosenkavalier'.

The company's musical director from 1970 to 1977 was Charles Mackerras. Harewood praised his exceptional versatility, with a range 'from 'The House of the Dead' to 'Patience'.'

From the outset, Arlen and then Harewood had wanted to change the company's name to reflect the fact that it was no longer based at Sadler's Wells theatre.   The title 'English National Opera' was approved and adopted by the company's board in November 1974.  In 1977, in response to demand for more opera productions in English provincial cities, a second company was established. This was based in Leeds and was known as English National Opera (North). Under Harewood's guidance it flourished, and in 1981 it became an independent company, Opera North.

In 1982, at Elder's instigation, Harewood appointed David Pountney director of productions. In 1985 Harewood retired (becoming chairman of ENO's board the following year) and Peter Jonas succeeded him as managing director. The 1980s triumvirate of Elder, Pountney and Jonas, often called the 'Powerhouse', initiated a new era of 'director's opera'. The triumvirate favoured productions described by Elder as 'groundbreaking, risky, probing and theatrically effective' and by the director Nicholas Hytner as 'Euro-bollocks that never has to be comprehensible to anybody but the people sitting out there conceiving.'

[Text based, in part, on Sadler's Wells and English Nation Opera Archives and other material in the public domain.]