Some good suggestions there tonyloco. A smaller venue would make more sense for all Mozart's operas, the Coliseum and the Garden are too big for these core repertory masterpieces, not to mention Gluck, Monteverdi and Handel, the latter being one of the few composers ENO have excelled at. Regarding audibility of words, particularly when singing in English, I think this is just a generational thing and has little to do with venue size. Years ago, at the Coliseum, words were very audible for I would say around 80% of a performance when ENO were on, even from the balcony. Singers from an earlier generation enunciated properly. When a really great singer like Janet Baker was performing you could hear every word. A few years ago I went to a modern opera (can't remember what, but it was a premiere) and this was just before surtitles were introduced, I made out one word in the whole performance, which bizarrely was 'cephalopod'! Contrast that with a performance about 30 years ago given by WNO at the Dominion Theatre of Das Rhinegold (in English) and sitting on the back row of the stalls , n this barn of a place,I was able to hear 90% of the words.
Oops! Don't know what happened there. All this modern technology is too much for me.
What I wanted to say about what tmesis said was that part of the audibility of singers at Sadler's Wells and then the Coliseum back in the older days was the fact that a number of them were well-trained Australians, particularly wonderful artists like June Bronhill and Ronald Dowd. Melba's principal teacher, Mathilde Marchesi, particularly liked Australian pupils (she taught only women) because of the way they were able to enunciate words, although there is always the exception like Joan Sutherland in her droopy days – thank heavens she sorted herself out later in her career. But I digress. I also wanted to comment that in my experience of attending ENO at the Coliseum was that the sound was very good in the stalls and in the balcony but it became muddy in the dress circle and the upper circle, which made it hard to understand words when sitting in those parts of the theatre.
I have just read the article 'Why this is the future of opera' by Rupert Christiansen in today's Sunday Telegraph advocating what he calls 'concert staging' of opera. I have to admit that given my choice between some of the 'reimaginings' of recent opera productions imposed on the standard operatic repertoire in major opera houses and the 'semi-staged' concert performances that I have enjoyed enormously, I will plump for 'concert stagings' every time. I would hope this does not lead to the death of the traditional opera house but, as has been suggested more than once, something has got to change regarding the cost of mounting full-scale opera productions (often ones that fiercely divide opinion), the price of the tickets, the amount of subsidy needed and the ageing of the core audiences. Maybe this is the way forward, at least for the immediate future.
I have just read the article 'Why this is the future of opera' by Rupert Christiansen in today's Sunday Telegraph advocating what he calls 'concert staging' of opera. I have to admit that given my choice between some of the 'reimaginings' of recent opera productions imposed on the standard operatic repertoire in major opera houses and the 'semi-staged' concert performances that I have enjoyed enormously, I will plump for 'concert stagings' every time.
I'll second that. Some of the best performance I've seen have been semi-staged. As long as the signers have learn the score & aren't stuck behind music stands, I think a performance with no scenery & the minimum of props & costumes can be at least as good as a lavish production costing hundreds of thousands - and sometimes better, if the hundreds of thousands have been spent on hideous scenery, hordes of distracting extras, etc.
I also agree. I'm not a fan of concert performances of operas but the simplicity of a semi-staging can often be far more affecting than some wilful director's 'take' on an opera. The semi-staged Ring cycle at the RAH done when the ROH was being re-developed about 20 years ago was fantastic. Also at RAH, a semi-staged production of Gluck's Orfeo at the Proms, done by Glyndebourne forces, with Janet Baker in the the title role, was in my top 5 ever greatest opera performances.