This was the third leader in The Times on Friday 14 January. Nothing to do with our Bethlehem — it’s commenting on English National Opera’s new season. Ironic that in the “cornucopia” of 20th-century English composers it fails to mention Rutland Boughton.


A LOCAL LADY SINGS
The ENO has rightly put British opera front stage


The canon has been dominated for so long by the Italians and Germans, with the Russians getting in only the occasional (though lengthy) performance, that opera lovers tend to forget that plenty is written in English, much of it recently and a lot of it laudable and listenable. After dismal seasons, highlighted by such aberrations as Don Giovanni in the lavatory, the English National Opera is wisely seeking artistic and commercial redemption in its roots. The coming season will question, project and celebrate each word of its name, in particular “English”.

   English opera stretches back to the glories of Purcell and the harmonies of Handel, and the more these neglected classics are performed, the greater the acclaim. But the 20th century is also a cornucopia: Britten, Walton, Tippett and Vaughan Williams have all written opera that deserves to be better known. Britten can hold his own anywhere, but will still be enhanced by his adoption as the ENO’s “house composer”. Vaughan Williams’s splendid Sir John in Love was eclipsed by Verdi’s Falstaff and has not been publicly staged since 1946; so why not now?

   Stretching “English” to mean in English or even from the British Isles enlarges the repertoire: a controversial opera by the Irish Gerald Barry from a Fassbinder play, Gaddafi (to take its place perhaps with Nixon and Jerry Springer) and debut direction by Chen Shi-Zheng and Anthony Minghella. Risky? Perhaps — Tosca and Turandot are more reliable crowdpleasers. But if the ENO is to get out of Covent Garden’s shadow, it needs to be bold. English food, wine, fashion and painting are enjoying a renaissance. It is time for the English fat lady to sing.