For the first time this Sunday, English National Opera is to broadcast one of its operas in UK cinemas. The opera in question is ENO’s acclaimed Peter Grimes, as the company seeks to match the success enjoyed by other opera houses who have shown productions on big screens across the country.
As this momentous new departure for ENO nears, film director Andy Morahan has outlined his vision to make Britten’s opera as immediate and engaging to cinema-goers as possible: instead of capturing the production entirely from in front of the stage, Morahan and his team are shooting on stage, as well as having two cameras in the wings and a reverse.
‘Our approach is immersive in the sense that we are going to make the stage the centre of the visual experience in the cinema, rather than the end-of-the-room flatness you get when you go to the theatre,’ he explains. ‘Most people cover opera or ballet in a perfunctory, flat way without much camera movement – we are trying to open that up a bit.’
The obvious concern for opera-goers and artistic directors alike, he admits, is that on-stage filming may create a distraction from the performance: ‘[Stage director] David Alden was a little bit nervous about having a camera on stage and I totally understood any reservations he had. It was during a dress rehearsal that we tried it and he said: “you know, I didn’t notice you on stage once during the whole production”. He was suddenly much more relaxed about the whole thing.’
Morahan’s background is in popular music video production. With projects like Guns N Roses’ November Rain and Michael Jackson’s Give In To Me to his name, he comes to opera from a different direction. ‘I love my opera as much as I love my rock and roll. It’s baby steps, but we feel we can really bring another dimension to it and hopefully if it goes well we’ll continue on that path.
‘What’s fantastic is that ENO’s artistic director, John Berry, and David Alden have both been very encouraging and enthusiastic about allowing us to access space that people normally wouldn’t do. They are excited to see it done differently.
Speaking to BBC Music Magazine earlier this month, tenor Stuart Skelton, who plays Grimes himself, also expressed enthusiasm for the approach: ‘I think the way that the ENO are going about this … is faithful to the concept of the whole idea of live opera. There’s a real buzz about it and we’re all focusing on giving the best performances we can.’
‘ENO Screen’ takes place on Sunday 23 February with Peter Grimes being shown live in cinemas across the country. Visit eno.org/enoscreen to find a screening near you. And for the full interview with Stuart Skelton, click here.