Pact with the Devil

by Keith Clarke

“It might be a disaster,” Terry Gilliam tells the Daily Telegraph cheerfully, contemplating his version of Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust, currently in rehearsal at the London Coliseum. It might well, given English National Opera’s track record in handing out operas willy nilly to people who have never seen the inside of an opera house in their lives.

It’s a bit of a slap in the face to the serried ranks of opera professionals who would give their eye teeth for a chance to tackle a mainstage production. But then we might not have heard of them, whereas Gilliam is the wacky brain behind the cartoons in Monty Python’s Flying Circus and director of Brazil, a film that put the wind up studio executives to such an extent that Gilliam took a page in Variety asking them when they were going to release it.

Gilliam is the next in a line of directors to benefit, if that’s the word, from ENO’s mania for having productions directed by just about anyone other than opera directors. Given some of the self-indulgent tosh that the pros come up with, that might not seem such a bad idea, but it is not a policy that has covered itself in glory thus far. The most recent ingénue was film maker Mike Figgis, who got so bound up in making miniature movies to go with his Lucrezia Borgia that he forgot to direct the opera at all.

Maybe Gilliam will surprise us all, making something of a strange work that was never supposed to be staged anyway. Hope springs eternal, and all that.


An unlikely alliance of the Almighty, the royal family and the workers is giving the UK eight out of 11 days off work starting tomorrow, if you include weekends. The beano starts with a late Easter and finishes with a May Day holiday. In between comes a royal wedding, which is currently getting the press into a predictable lather of excitement.

The musical aspects of the event have not been immune from forensic examination, of course, with much speculation over what’s on the order of service, who’s going to take part, and second-rate songwriters offering their services.

We’ve seen the boys of the Choir of the Chapel Royal rehearsing; we’ve had a tv interview with conductor Christopher Warren-Green, veteran of many royal occasions; we’ve learnt how Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs has written a fanfare for the trumpeters of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force to herald the moment Prince William and Kate Middleton sign the register. The excitement is intense, as they say. At least it’s another day off.

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