Birtwistle returns to English National Opera as The Mask of Orpheus receives first full London staging since its premiere

30th September 2019 in Press

The Mask of Orpheus
Sir Harrison Birtwistle (1934 – present)
Libretto by Peter Zinovieff (1933 – present)
Director, Daniel Kramer
Conductor, Martyn Brabbins
Second conductor, James Henshaw

Opens Friday 18 October at 19:00 (5 performances)

‘The finest British opera of the last half-century’ (the Guardian) receives its first major staging in London since its premiere at English National Opera (ENO) in 1986.

Marking the composer’s 85th birthday, Harrison Birtwistle’s remarkable work – with a libretto by Peter Zinovieff – mixes music, drama and myth. Scored for massive orchestral forces, the ENO orchestra is led by ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins, a dedicated exponent of the music of Birtwistle. Noted for conducting the definitive recording of the piece with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2009, Martyn is truly honoured to be leading this new production, 33 years after the ENO premiere.

Daniel Kramer directs the Birtwistle masterpiece, which forms part of ENO’s Orpheus Series he has curated with Martyn for autumn 2019, following their collaborations for last season’s War Requiem and Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel. ENO’s Orpheus Series reimagines four operas exploring the Orpheus myth, each interpreted by four directors from diverse theatrical disciplines, all in sets by renowned British designer Lizzie Clachan.

Daniel Kramer began his opera career at ENO a decade ago with Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy in 2008, which won the South Bank Show Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera, and this production promises to continue that total theatre approach to Birtwistle’s work.

Costumes are by artist, campaigner and designer Daniel Lismore, described by Vogue as ‘England’s most outrageous dresser’. To inspire and support Lismore in creating his first ever set of costumes for the stage, Swarovski has exclusively provided the opera production with 400,000 crystals.

The Mask of Orpheus retells the Orpheus myth in a non-linear narrative, and examines the various manifestations of grief and loss, love and rage. Birtwistle’s complex retelling explores the Orpheus myth from different perspectives. The opera’s leading characters appear in three distinct guises, representing their human, heroic and mythical form, while different areas of the stage symbolise the different depictions of the ancient story.

Birtwistle, one of Europe’s leading figures in contemporary music, extends beyond the conventional operatic resources by integrating electronic music (realised by the late Barry Anderson) into the complex score, in addition to the massive orchestra of wind, brass, harps, guitars, and a huge battery of percussion.

Tenor Peter Hoare sings Orpheus the Man, in his fifth performance at ENO while tenor Daniel Norman sings Orpheus the Myth, after his ‘persuasive’ (The Times) performance as Monostatos in ENO’s production of The Magic Flute earlier this year.

Praised for her ‘warm mezzo’ and ‘velvet-voice’ (The Telegraph), British-Spanish mezzosoprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons makes her ENO debut as Eurydice the Woman, having recently made critically acclaimed house and role debuts at the Royal Opera House as Siébel in David McVicar’s production of Faust and as Hel in the premiere of Gavin Higgins’s The Monstrous Child (Linbury Theatre).

Mezzo soprano Claire Barnett-Jones, hailed as ‘a young singer to watch’ (Opera Today) makes her ENO Harewood Artist’s debut, taking on the roles of Eurydice The Myth and Persephone. Claire has performed as Soloist on the Last Night of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, for Opéra National de Bordeaux, with the Orchestra of Valencia, CBSO and at Wigmore Hall.

Claire is joined by four other Harewood Artists and the cast is completed with James Cleverton as Aristaeus The Man, Simon Bailey as Aristaeus the Myth/Charon and Robert
Hayward as The Caller. James Henshaw joins as the second conductor.

Lighting and video design is by Peter Mumford, sound design by Sound Intermedia and choreography by Barnaby Booth.

The Mask of Orpheus opens on Friday 18 October at 19:00 at the London Coliseum for 5 performances: Oct 18, 25 & Nov 7, 13 at 19:00 and Oct 29 at 18:00.
Tickets start from £10 (plus booking fee)

*£2.25 booking fee applies to online and telephone bookings

Supported by Linda Christmas, Cockayne – Grants for the Arts, and a syndicate of donors

Crystals provided exclusively by Swarovski



Notes to Editors:

About English National Opera
English National Opera is the national opera company dedicated to one simple aim: making opera for everyone. We sing in English to be as accessible to the widest possible audience, as well as offering tickets for as little as ten pounds and we create opera that feels different, theatrical and creatively daring. We’ve been doing this to an internationally recognised standard since being founded in 1931 as Sadler’s Wells Opera.

We are determined to open up the genre: nearly half of our audiences in 2018/19 were first-time bookers. Our learning and participation programme ENO Baylis last year touched the lives of more than 15,000 school children and community groups, and our talent development programme nurtures the careers of singers (the ENO Harewood Artist programme) and conductors (the Charles Mackerras Fellowship). We also give free tickets to Under 18s in our balcony for opening nights, Friday and Saturday performances.

Last year, the percentage of audience members under 44 increased by 13% year-on-year and the proportion of our audience with a black or minority ethnic background increased from 4% to 10%. In January of this year, we announced that we would be recruiting four new members of our Chorus from a BAME background, as well as four BAME Director

Our ongoing support and development of British talent meant 80% of the cast in the 2017-18 season were British or British trained. That’s important to us and is fundamental to
our ethos of giving new talent their break.

ENO is about opera for everyone.


Orpheus the Man Peter Hoare
Orpheus the Myth/Hades Daniel Norman
Orpheus the Hero Matthew Smith
Eurydice the Woman Marta Fontanals-Simmons
Eurydice the Myth/Persephone Claire Barnett Jones
Eurydice the Hero Alfa Marks
Aristaeus the Man James Cleverton
Aristaeus the Myth/Charon Simon Bailey
Aristaeus the Hero Leo Hedman
The Oracle of the Dead/Hecate Claron McFadden
The Caller Robert Hayward
First Priest/Judge of the Dead William Morgan
Second Priest/Judge of the Dead David Ireland
Third Priest/Judge of the Dead Simon Wilding
First Woman/Fury 1 Charlotte Shaw
Second Woman/Fury 2 Katie Coventry
Third Woman/Fury 3 Katie Stevenson