Terry Gilliam to direct Faust for English National Opera
The man who defined Monty Python's visual language, and directed such films as Brazil, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is to try his hand at opera for the first time.
Terry Gilliam is to direct The Damnation of Faust at English National Opera next summer – where it is hoped that his production of Berlioz's masterpiece will not be beset by the problems that have harried the director in other contexts.
Heath Ledger died part way through the production of The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, while The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was abandoned after Jean Rochefort, the star, suffered a herniated disc and the set flooded.
John Berry, ENO's artistic director, acknowledged the risks for newcomers attempting to take on opera. "It can be like a car crash coming at you from every angle," he said. But the company will hope to repeat the success of Anthony Minghella's popular production of Madame Butterfly, which tempted new audiences for opera into the London Coliseum.
According to Edward Gardner, ENO's music director, who will conduct the Berlioz: "You have to create a world for The Damnation of Faust, and that is something Gilliam is incredibly brilliant at doing – if not several worlds at once. He's got a real grip on what needs to be done. I can't wait to tap into his crazy world and artistry."
Berry said that he had tempted Gilliam to the Coliseum by stalking him for eight months. "I crept up on him so that he eventually found himself in a situation where he was committed."
Gilliam is not the only film director making his debut at ENO in a season described by Berry as "our most ambitious yet". Mike Figgis, most famous for films such as Leaving Las Vegas and Timecode, is set to direct Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, declaring his enthusiasm for "getting my teeth into a very traditional opera".
His films are known for their careful attention to music, usually composed by Figgis himself. The new season will also see the opera debuts of two heavyweight figures from the British theatre: Simon McBurney, one of the co-founders of Complicite, and Rufus Norris, hot property as a theatre director.
Norris will take on a new production of Don Giovanni, while McBurney will direct a new opera by Alexander Raskatov, a Russian composer, based on Bulgakov's novel A Dog's Heart.
The company will also be staging a world premiere: an as yet unnamed project by Nico Muhly, a young New Yorker, based on the true story of a Manchester teenager who tried to arrange his own murder on the internet. Hailed as a talent to watch, Muhly, 28, who has worked with Björk and scored The Reader, may possibly find British critics a problem after he blasted "cunty English reviews" on his blog last year.
He said his piece would be tapping into a time, around the turn of the century, when the internet was "as sexy as a masked ball and as dangerous as a back alley".
The season will also include a new production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream by Christopher Alden – who will also revive his production of Janacek's The Makropoulos Case, with Amanda Roocroft as Emilia Marty – and David Alden's new production of Handel's Radamisto with Christine Rice and Ailish Tynan in the cast.
There will be a revival of Nikolaus Lehnhoff's production of Wagner's Parsifal, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, and a new production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra will be directed by the Russian Dmitri Tcherniakov and conducted by Gardner.
ENO season highlights
September 2010 Gounod's Faust, directed by Des McAnuff, conducted by Edward Gardner; Janacek's The Makropoulos Case.
November Rufus Norris directs Don Giovanni.
January 2011 Mike Figgis makes his operatic debut with Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia.
May Terry Gilliam takes on Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust.
June Verdi's Simon Boccanegra.; Nico Muhly's new opera.