Opens Friday 16 November (6 performances)
Marking the centenary of the 1918 Armistice that brought to an end the most brutal war that Europe had then seen, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem will be fully brought to the stage for the first time in the UK. ENO Artistic Director Daniel Kramer will collaborate with Turner Prize-winning German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans in a unique fusion of music, theatre and visual arts paying testament to the complexities of war.
Continuing the ENO tradition of staging sacred music and oratorio - including Deborah Warner’s Messiah and St John Passion and Peter Sellars’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary – the staging of War Requiem explores the ongoing cycles of nationalism and violence, grief and reconciliation. Britten’s 1962 choral masterpiece uses the poetry of Wilfred Owen, killed in action a week before the Armistice was signed, alongside the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead to create a thoroughly modern yet timeless outcry against violence and war.
ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins will conduct an extraordinary combined musical force. The ENO Chorus is joined by the international ensemble from ENO’s Porgy and Bess and the Finchley Children’s Music Group for a total of around 120 singers, as well as the three soloists, Roderick Williams, Emma Bell and David Butt Philip. The ENO Orchestra includes a chamber orchestra, bringing it to a total size of 85 players.
Wolfgang Tillmans is one of the most renowned photographers at work today. The first photographer to win the Turner Prize (2000), he is known for his ability to form extraordinary and perceptive images out of the everyday, as well as his the strong social and political voice running through his work, as seen in his hugely acclaimed 2017 Tate Modern exhibition. This marks his operatic debut. He comments: “Britten’s War Requiem is universal, and we wanted to put its contemporaneity into focus. In my research again and again I came across the importance of children and youth: playing war and training for war cannot be separated. Britten wrote War Requiem in the spirit of pacifism: what has been forgotten is how much of the rhetoric immediately after the Second World War was about reconciliation between nations, but today we often remember only our own nation’s dead. It was great to work on the production with Daniel Kramer, both in terms of deciding what was there on stage and crucially what would not be there: the look of it is as much about what you can’t see as what you can."
Daniel Kramer has been Artistic Director of English National Opera since August 2016. For his first ENO production he directed Punch and Judy at the Young Vic for which he won the South Bank Show Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera. Since then he has directed Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (2009) and Tristan and Isolde (2016), in which he collaborated with another Turner Prize winning artist, Anish Kapoor. Earlier in 2018 he directed La traviata at ENO, making War Requiem his fifth ENO production.
Music Director Martyn Brabbins is one of the country’s leading conductors of twentieth century British music. A Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Music, his recordings include prize-winning discs of operas by Birtwistle and Harvey. His 2018/19 season also includes Salome and the world premiere of Iain Bell’s Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel.
The musical structure of War Requiem follows the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead, with three soloists singing Owen’s English poetry alternating with the chorus singing the original Latin. The Baritone will be sung by Roderick Williams. Singer of the Year at the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards, he sang Christ in the 2015 Peter Sellars staging of the St John Passion with the Berlin Philharmonic. He was made an OBE in June 2017 for services to music.
Emma Bell sings the Soprano. Last at ENO in 2013 to sing Leonore in Fidelio, she has since had an impressive international career including leading roles at the Berlin Staatsoper, Theater an der Wien and Metropolitan Opera, New York. Her title role in Glyndebourne’s Vanessa earlier in 2018 was declared ‘a standout triumph’ (Classical Music Magazine).
The Tenor is sung by David Butt Philip, who returns for his third ENO performance after singing Rodolfo in 2014’s run of La bohème and Pinkerton in 2016’s Madame Butterfly. His singing of oratorio and sacred music is highly acclaimed, with the Sunday Times’s critic saying of his performance in the 2017 Hallé Orchestra The Dream of Gerontius: ‘I was brought close to tears by the sheer beauty of his singing. This young man is a marvel’.
The ENO Chorus are one of the finest opera choruses at work today, winning the 2016 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera, and named Chorus of the Year at the 2016 International Opera Awards. The Porgy and Bess ensemble who join them were specially recruited for the two productions from countries including the UK, US, South Africa, DR Congo, Germany and New Zealand. They were widely cited as one of the standout elements of Porgy and Bess (‘the glory of the show’ – The Financial Times).
Finchley Children’s Music Group was founded in 1958 to give the first performance of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, and here return to the composer with whom they are most associated. In the 60 years since they have become one of the most celebrated children’s choirs in the UK, performing with the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and London Philharmonic Orchestra among many others.
Choreography is by one of Daniel Kramer’s long-time collaborators Ann Yee, whose extraordinary range of work across theatre, opera, musical and film have made her ‘one of the great unsung heroes of theatre’ (director Jamie Llloyd). Credits include Woyzeck and Hair with Kramer, along with Mr Burns, Birdland, The Commitments and the Donmar Warehouse Shakespeare Trilogy.
Costume design is by East London-based fashion designer Nasir Mazhar. His work has featured in the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony and his shows are a regular appearance at London Fashion Week. Lighting design is by Charles Balfour whose recent work includes Sadko and La traviata with Daniel Kramer.
Benjamin Britten is one of the composers most associated with ENO, ever since the premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945 when the company was still Sadler’s Wells Opera. War Requiem is the fourth Britten work performed in 2018, after A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Turn of the Screw and Paul Bunyan, marking the fiftieth year of ENO at the Coliseum. Noye’s Fludde will be performed by the company in July of 2019 at Theatre Royal Stratford East.