LONDON: Carousel
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In Review > International


English National Opera

In Review ENO Carousel lg 717
ENO’s Carousel stars, Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins
© Tristram Kenton

FOR THE THIRD YEAR in a row, ENO has followed its much-reduced regular season at the London Coliseum with a musical semi-staged in collaboration with commercial producers Michael Linnit and Michael Grade. This year it was Carousel, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical play, often regarded as the pair’s most operatic show and their masterpiece. 

Though the Carousel principals were largely drawn from London’s pool of West End musical-theater artists, both of the main roles—the troubled fairground barker Billy Bigelow and his beaten but forgiving wife, Julie—were sung by performers with full classical training, even if both have essentially moved into crossover careers. 

A former student at London’s Royal Academy of Music, Welsh mezzo Katherine Jenkins has never subsequently sung in an opera or, for that matter, a musical, but her CDs of generally lighter material have garnered her sales of eight million, plus tabloid celebrity—if little credit among the classical community. 

Tenor Alfie Boe’s trajectory has been more complex. A former student at London’s Royal College of Music and a member of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists program, Boe dropped out of the latter to star in Baz Luhrmann’s Bohème on Broadway. Boe’s subsequent work with British opera companies has included Rodolfo and Nadir with ENO, but public disagreements with managements eventually led to his abandoning opera altogether and subsequently rubbishing the entire art form in the wider media as he concentrated instead on musicals and concerts of popular material. 

But Jenkins and Boe are useful singers with wide appeal, and both came over as perfectly capable in Lonny Price’s efficient semi-staging, with functional visuals by set designer James Noone and costume designer Tracy Christensen, though in the final analysis neither artist offered genuine theatrical star quality, as opposed to high chat-show visibility. The remaining principals—Alex Young’s Carrie Pipperidge, Gavin Spokes’s Enoch Snow, Derek Hagen’s Jigger Craigin and Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Starkeeper—were all up to requirements, though former UK X Factor semifinalist Brenda Edwards’s Nettie Fowler sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with distinct pop-star inflections.

Where the evening scored was in its more traditional aspects. ENO fielded a forty-two-piece orchestra to play Don Walker’s and Trude Rittman’s original orchestrations. (According to Ethan Mordden’s program note, the 1945 production had just thirty-nine players.) The company also provided the stage crew, plus a chorus of twenty-four; there was an equivalent number in the show’s stage ensemble, almost entirely drawn from the world of musical theater. Conductor David Charles Abell, skilled in this repertoire as well as in opera, steered the piece along to good effect. The downside was that mics were heavily employed, mushing up the words and denying us the individual qualities of the voices. 

It has been announced that next summer the company will take over an admirable Kiss Me, Kate from Opera North, one also shared with Welsh National Opera. Let’s hope that they cast it from strength and ditch the microphones. —George Hall 

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