Tête â Tête is delighted to present our online feature series ‘Shout About It!’, a collective of exclusive, up-close interviews with a roster of progressive minds from all aspects of the opera industry.
For our first instalment, we’re absolutely delighted to welcome ENO’s new Artistic Director Daniel Kramer, who sat down with us to talk about regaining trust of ENO’s fan base, his admiration for Harrison Birtwistle and why he thinks our young opera directors should be thinking bigger.
Daniel, congratulations on your appointment as Artistic Director at English National Opera. You’ve already been working with the company for a few months now; what is it that attracted you to work for ENO?
ENO takes risks onstage with a highly supported environment off-stage. I want Philip Turner to stage manage every show I do. And now that’s a reality! It’s the people who make ENO so special. And I think our audiences feels that heart and passion in our work onstage.
It’s been a difficult time for ENO recently, but you have been very strong in your response to the company’s critics. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing ENO in the next few years?
Getting new audiences across London to pack the Coliseum for top notch productions of the world’s greatest stories and music – getting the NEW message out there. Marketing costs and we have lost a chunk! And regaining the trust of our core audience, that their enjoyment is back at the top of my agenda. Finally, making our ENO Alumni feel how much we value them and know that they are the life blood of our company for me.
What sort of things can we expect to see on the calendar in 2018 in your first season?
Why we sing and what we sing is more important than ever before – in the face of Brexit and Trump. I feel we must explore our world’s current relationship to the patriarch and how we pave a shared path forward as global citizens.
Which artist or composer would you most like to work with, and why?
Harrison Birtwistle. Harrison hears another world of music. When I go to a work of art, I don’t wish to understand it cerebrally; I wish to be transported to a world of poetry where sensations are felt and questions linger for months to come. I wish to brush up against the sublime. Harrison’s work inspires me to reflect, to think, to relish in the complexities of modern emotion – to misunderstand reality. It’s like being a child again, not having my expectations affirmed. Plenty of other entertainment does that.
Your refreshing approach to the fundraising process is one that you credit to your American entrepreneurial roots. Growing up around the US arts scene in Ohio and then Illinois, what other aspects of your personality as a director do you think reflect American culture?
When I was younger my sense of acidic colour and juxtaposition / absurdity were greatly influenced by American excess and pop culture. These days, I think my roots enforce me to ask bold political and social questions with my art. It feels like my duty to question the global impact of my American roots.
Your production of The Others in our 2008 Tête â Tête: The Opera Festival brought aerialists and instrumentalists together to create theatre; you recently collaborated with artist Anish Kapoor on Tristan & Isolde; what do you enjoy most about unusual collaborations like this?
I like every collaboration I do to be outside my comfort zone. Some people are here to conquer and collect. I am here to explore and evolve.
What is your favourite Tête â Tête production, and why?
SALAD DAYS! Because it was made from joy, and that joy radiated throughout. I also think Quinny Sacks is a stellar choreographer – few can touch her wit. That is a rare gift.
This year, the major opera companies have come under some heavy scrutiny of their commitment to ensuring that their productions welcome all communities. There’s an argument that the major companies can afford to invest more time and money into their casting and recruitment processes, and in turn better reflect the methods of finding new talent often used in the film industry.
Do you agree with this, and what might you do differently to change the way ENO approaches inclusivity?
I am working hard on a programming a main stage vision and professional development model that will plant many seeds and opportunities for a diverse array of singers, directors, composers, technicians and artistic administrators to get involved in the music arts. This is of course a short term and long term plan. I want the London Coliseum inside to reflect London outside.
What are your plans for encouraging and developing new opera with English National Opera?
I intend to do a UK premiere each main stage season. I also hope to restore 2 House Composers each season – in partnership with Tête à Tête!
Which one opera production do you wish that you had directed, and why?
Carmelites. It’s musical bliss to me. And a very important political message.
Could you give us one bit of advice for those currently pursuing a career as an opera director?
Most young directors come and pitch tiny obscure work to me. Of which I can only do a few small pieces each season. I am waiting for someone to knock me off my feet with a war horse – ready for the chorus, ready for the main stage, DREAMING BIGGER. Finally opera involves the chorus. I am sad I don’t meet many young directors who begin with that desire to shape the community onstage.
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Daniel Kramer is the newly-appointed Artistic Director at English National Opera, programming from 2018/2019. He is an internationally recognised opera and theatre director: https://www.eno.org/artists/daniel-kramer/
Follow on Twitter | @DirectorKramer