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Tuesday, 1 November 2022

The ENO presents the UK premiere & operatic adaptation of the festive favourite film, It’s a Wonderful Life

This November, opening the festive season at the London Coliseum, the English National Opera (ENO) presents the highly anticipated UK premiere of It’s a Wonderful Life. Composed by Jake Heggie in 2016 with the libretto by Gene Scheer, this is an operatic adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra Christmas classic film, sung in English.

A blended tale of fantasy and drama loosely based on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, a humble man of humble origins in a humble small town. Having sacrificed many of his own dreams to help others around him, George is driven to breakdown, only to be shown by his guardian angel how his life enriches his community in ways he could never imagine.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a family friendly opera, perfect for first-time opera goers of all ages. It is an all-singing, all-dancing tale of hope and redemption sprinkled with a smattering of festive magic. Tickets start from £10 for everyone, under 21s can access free tickets to all performances, and under 35s can sign up for huge discounts.

Jake Heggie is an American composer influenced by multiple styles; he often infuses gospel, jazz, and pop elements into his work making his operas accessible to audiences while challenging their understanding of what a traditional opera can be. Heggie is known as one of modern operas most exciting contemporary composers, describing himself as primarily concerned with exploring character. With George Bailey at the centre of It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s clear to see why this nuanced story appealed to Heggie where the banker’s emotional turmoil is at the heart of the story and key to the music.

Jake Heggie says:
‘I am over the moon that the ENO has assembled such an extraordinary cast and creative team for this fabulous new production at the London Coliseum. When creating It’s a Wonderful Life, Gene Scheer and I wanted to give audiences a memorable holiday experience, packed with lyrical singing, big ensembles, and the powerful emotions that opera can explore like no other art form. This show brings people together - especially during this festive season - and London audiences of all ages are in for a magical, moving, and astonishing evening of music and dance.’

Directing and Choreographing It’s a Wonderful Life is Aletta Collins, making her ENO directorial debut. A former Associate Artist at the Royal Opera House, Collin’s has directed and choreographed for opera houses across the UK and internationally, as well as theatres in the West End and Off-West End. Collins recently choreographed the BAFTA Award-winning British coming-of-age drama film, Belfast (2021), written and directed by Kenneth Branagh.

Conducting the award-winning ENO Orchestra and making her ENO debut in the pit is regular collaborator Nicole Paiement. Paiement has gained an international reputation for conducting contemporary works. She has served as the Artistic Director of the BluePrint Project at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where she has commissioned, premiered, and recorded works for many living American composers; and she is the founder and Artistic Director of San Francisco's Opera Parallèle where she has conducted many new productions.

‘Opera’s coolest soprano’ (The New York Times Magazine) and Australian-American actress Danielle de Niese makes her ENO operatic debut performing the role of Clara, George’s guardian angel. De Niese regularly appears on the world’s most prestigious opera and concert stages, and is a prolific recording artist and TV personality. She recently starred in the feature film of Poulenc’s one-women opera, La Voix Humaine, alongside Sir Antonio Pappano which premiered in Spring 2022 on BBC Two along with international cinematic release.

American tenor Frederick Ballentine will be making his role debut as George Bailey. He made his ENO debut as Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess and is returning to the ENO after performing as a soloist in the concert staging of Seven Last Words where he was ‘strong-voiced and ardent’ (Seen and Heard International), and performing the role of Nick in The Handmaid’s Tale during the 2021/22 Season. He will be making his second role debut this 2022/23 Season performing the role of Loge in Wagner’s The Rhinegold, for Richard Jones’ Ring Cycle.

British soprano Jennifer France returns to the ENO for her role debut as Mary Hatch Bailey. France made her ENO debut in Orphée during the 2019/20 Season. She recently performed as a soloist in concert for In This Brief Moment at Symphony Hall, Birmingham with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra where she ‘stole the show’ with ‘her impeccable diction and laser precision’ (The Guardian). France has performed at many of the leading opera houses both in the UK and internationally, including Bayerische Staatsoper Munich, Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Royal Opera House.

American bass baritone Donovan Singletary will be performing the role of Harry Bailey. Singletary is a recent graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Programme and he has been praised by Opera News for his ‘bright baritone’. He is returning to the ENO following performance singing Jake in the 2018 staging of Porgy and Bess. Joining him on stage is South African soprano Segomotso Shupinyaneng who is making her ENO debut performing the role of Harry’s wife, Helen Bailey.

Tenor Roland Samm, born in Trinidad and Tobago, is performing the role of Uncle Billy Bailey. Returning to the London Coliseum, he previously made his ENO debut in the 2018 production of Porgy and Bess in the role of Peter.

Bringing her ‘expressive’ and ‘sumptuous voice’ (The Guardian) to the role of Mother Bailey is British soprano Gweneth Ann Rand. Rand is currently an Associate Artist at Wigmore Hall and she was previously a Vilar Young Artist at the Royal Opera House. She is returning to the ENO following her performance as Serena in the ENO’s 2018 staging of Porgy and Bess, the title role in Aida, the Mother in Hansel & Gretel at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, and the Hen/Innkeeper’s Wife in 2022 production of The Cunning Little Vixen.

Making his ENO debut is American baritone Michael Mayes as Mr Potter. Mayes made an explosive international debut singing the role of Joseph de Rocher in Heggie’s Dead Man Walking to international acclaim in 2018 for Teatro Real and at The Barbican in London. He has performed for many of the leading opera houses both in the UK and internationally, including Houston Grand Opera House, Staatsoper Stuttgart, Seattle Opera, and Boston Lyric Opera.

As the Angel Quartet, British soprano Keri Fuge, who is making her ENO debut, will be joined on stage by current ENO Harewood Artists; German mezzo-soprano Idunnu Münch, South African tenor Zwakele Tshabalala, and British bass-baritone Ossian Huskinson. British baritone and former ENO Harewood Artist Alex Otterburn will be returning to the London Coliseum in the role of Ernie. The stellar cast will be joined on stage by the ENO Chorus.

Giles Cadle is the Set Designer, Gabrielle Dalton is the Costume Designer, Andreas Fuchs is the Lighting Designer, and Nick Lidster is the Sound Designer.

It’s a Wonderful Life opens on Friday 25 November for 10 performances: Nov 25, 29, 30 and Dec 3, 7, 9 at 19.30. Nov 27 and Dec 3, 10 at 15.00.

A fully staged Relaxed Performance will be on Wednesday 7 December at 11.00.

British Sign Language performance: Wednesday 7 December, 19.30.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The Wind in the Willows, London Palladium | Review

The Wind in the Willows
London Palladium
Reviewed on Thursday June 29th 2017 by Olivia Mitchell

The Wind in the Willows is a perfectly fun, family show. It's not a theatrical masterpiece but it's a cute, heartwarming fable that's sweet enough for both children and adults to enjoy.

Adapted by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Half a Sixpence), The Wind in the Willows is an old school tale given a modern twist. We follow Ratty and his new friend Mole as they venture around the countryside trying to hide from the evil of the Wild Wood and help their friend Mr. Toad curve his need for speed. It's a show which is quintessentially British:lazing by the river, watching the swallows returning home for summer, seeing animals foraging in the woods, each scene conjures up the good old English countryside.

The pastoral feel of the production is guided by the sets and costumes by Peter McKintosh, with each area and animal having its own unique "style" and each set piece combining perfectly to create the world of human-like animals which is both distinctive and mystical. Each animal is instantly recognisable without being too in your face animal. The set also strikes a good balance between being enough of a spectacle whilst still leaving enough room for your imagination to roam a little wild. 

Simon Lipkin's Ratty is suitably funny and stern and despite not being a huge belting role, he really shows off his voice and beautiful tone. Craig Mather has wonderful chemistry with Lipkin as Ratty's partner in crime, Mole. He is the perfect mix of innocence and strength and is pretty perfect in the role. Another sweet and funny character is Mrs Otter played by Denise Welch although we never do find out what happened to her husband! Thankfully some contrast to the sweetness is brought with the baddie of the show, Chief Weasel played by Neill McDermott who is very reminiscent of Rooster in Annie. The Weasel scenes are my personal favourites and add a nice sharpness to the otherwise same level show. The ensemble are tight and bring a lot to the show. An audience favourite seemed to be the adorable hedgehog family who sing a lovely little ditty about the trouble of crossing the road. 

Aletta Collins' choreography fits exactly, adding not only dimension but humour to the show. Especially so with the tap dancing horse!

Of course I have to mention Mr Toad played by Rufus Hound who is great in the role. He is over the top and dramatic but actually very good. I was surprised at how good his voice is and really do think he's the perfect choice for the role.

The Wind in the Willows is good family fun which is certain to leave a smile on your face and at least one song in your head. It's simple, charming and exactly what it says on the tin, what more could you ask for for a family theatre trip? 

The Wind in the Willows runs at the London Palladium until September 9th