Annilese Miskimmon, the no-nonsense artistic director of the English National Opera (ENO), hit the nail on the head when she asked: “When a composer brings me an idea for an opera, the first thing I ask is, why does this need to be made into an opera?”
Was Miskimmon stating the bleeding obvious? Well, no. It turns out that plenty of contemporary composers peddle duff ideas for operas and somehow have them produced. Take L’Amour de loin, for example, the 2000 opera in five interminable acts by the composer, Kaija Saariaho, with a French-language libretto by Amin Maalouf. I once saw a production of L’Amour de loin at New York’s Met, Mr Saariaho should never have spoilt a vaguely interesting short story by entombing it in dreary music and meandering “meaningful” sung soliloquies. In presenting an apocryphal tale of love between a couple who never met, only to have the inamorato snuff it as he heaves up on a beach at the feet of his inamorata – the production did not warrant operatic treatment. However, it has to be said; I may be unfair as I confess to only being awake for the first three hours.
It’s too bad Miskimmon was not on hand at the outset to give the idea short shrift. Now, she has moved from Nordic Scandi-noir to Coliseum-Covid-noir without any intervening period whatsoever. The poor soul. She was being interviewed on a regular ENO TV web event for patrons and sponsors and ran hangers-on (me). Miskimmon reflected on what ENO has done in covidium tribulatio – their brilliant Mozart Requiem and funky Camper Van drive in la Bohème as well as discussing post-pandemic plans: