English National Opera and BBC Two announce the broadcast of Handel’s Messiah, captured exclusively for television this Easter

8th March 2021 in Press

English National Opera (ENO) and BBC Two today announce that a specially-created concert of Handel’s Messiah will be recorded for exclusive broadcast on BBC Two this Easter.

The hour-long performance of Handel’s much-loved masterpiece will be imaginatively staged at the London Coliseum, and filmed specifically for a television audience. With no live audience present, the performance will be brought to life by the creative teams of the English National Opera, and performed by guest soloists and the ENO Chorus and Orchestra, making imaginative use of the stunning auditorium at the Coliseum. It will be presented by saxophonist and broadcaster YolanDa Brown and broadcaster Petroc Trelawny.

Handel’s Messiah follows the success of ENO’s recent partnership with the BBC to bring audiences at home an acclaimed performance of Mozart’s Requiem, broadcast on BBC Two in November 2020. Singers, Chorus and Orchestra will be socially distanced across the stage and auditorium and filmed in strict compliance with all relevant health and safety guidelines.

Featuring some of Handel’s best-known music – including the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus – Messiah tells the story of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. Composed in 1741, and premiered at Easter 1742 the piece speaks to the holiday’s celebration of hope and new beginnings.

ENO will return to the custom of performances in Handel’s lifetime, using a broader spectrum of solo voices than the usual four, featuring instead a bigger cast of eight outstanding soloists. Established, celebrated stars of the operatic world such as mezzo-soprano Christine Rice and countertenor Iestyn Davies, join the exciting new talents of current and former ENO Harewood Artists (sopranos Nadine Benjamin and Nardus Williams, tenors Anthony Gregory and John Findon, baritone Benson Wilson and bass William Thomas) to perform this popular piece.

ENO Artistic Director Annilese Miskimmon said: ‘Returning to the London Coliseum, the first time since performing the haunting Mozart’s Requiem in November, will be hugely emotional for us as a company.  Handel’s beautiful music transcends the specifics of its biblical text in embracing the possibility of hope and rebirth after the darkest of times.’

ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins said: ‘Handel’s Messiah remains one of the true glories of musical creation, and a cornerstone of the repertoire of orchestras, choruses and solo singers throughout the world. Now approaching its 300th birthday, Messiah contains some of the most memorable and moving music from the Baroque era. This performance is sure to bring joy and happiness to all who experience it.’

ENO’s CEO Stuart Murphy said: ‘It’s been so important to us to keep performing for audiences during lockdown, in whatever way we can, so we are very grateful to the BBC for helping us fulfil this mission once again. Music and art have got many of us through this period of consternation, so we hope people love this latest ENO performance.’

Head of BBC Music TV Commissioning, Jan Younghusband, says: ‘We are delighted to be working with ENO again to create a performance in their theatre and for television. Whilst it is not possible to have live audiences in theatres, concert halls and opera houses at the moment, it is even more important to deliver music performance for our audiences on television, and bring great artistry to music fans locked down at home.’

Members of the award winning ENO Chorus and Orchestra will be conducted by Handel expert Laurence Cummings, and joined by eight acclaimed soloists.

A noted authority on Handel, Laurence Cummings ‘now ranks as one of the composer’s best advocates in the world… he matches Handel’s energy and invention with unmistakable lyricism, generosity and dignity’ (the Guardian). Laurence will conduct a stellar lineup of some of opera’s most exciting talent.

Nardus Williams joins the lineup after singing the shared role of Mimi in ENO Drive & Live: La bohème – the world’s first fully staged drive-in opera – in September 2020 at Alexandra Palace. Dubbed ‘one to listen out for’ on the basis of her ‘creamy’ voiced (the Guardian) ENO debut as Micaëla in Carmen, Nardus is a current ENO Harewood artist.

Bringing her vocal prowess back to the London Coliseum, British soprano and former Harewood Artist Nadine Benjamin lends her ‘rich, glowing voice’ (the Guardian) to the lineup. A versatile and charismatic artist, Nadine’s acclaim for roles such as Musetta in La bohème and her ‘gloriously sung’ (Evening Standard) Clara in Porgy & Bess make her an ENO favourite.

One of Britain’s leading mezzo-sopranos, Christine Rice is a regular performer at major European opera houses including the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, Teatro Real, and Bayerische Straatsoper. Christine returns to the ENO following her role as Federica in 2020’s Luisa Miller.

Praised for his Handel roles at renowned opera houses like the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne, acclaimed British countertenor Iestyn Davies has previously recorded two versions of Messiah. He joins as a soloist, following ENO’s Rodelina in 2014, where his Bertarido was hailed as ‘perfection’ (the Telegraph).

Possessing a ‘disquietingly beautiful’ (the Guardian) tenor, former Harewood Artist Anthony Gregory returns to the London Coliseum stage following 2019’s acclaimed Orphée. With an established international career, Anthony is renowned for his ‘lovely, warm tenor’ (Opera Now).

Current ENO Harewood Artist, tenor John Findon will also join this exciting lineup. John has recently sung roles at Glyndebourne and Garsington Opera, and returns to ENO following his house debut in January 2020 as Remendado in Carmen.

John is joined by another current ENO Harewood Artist, New Zealand-born Samoan baritone Benson Wilson. Benson recently made his house debut in ENO Drive & Live: La bohème as Schaunard, broadcast on Sky Arts.

Also marking his first performance at the London Coliseum is fellow Harewood Artist, British bass William Thomas. William made his ENO debut as a ‘captivating’ (the Guardian) Colline in ENO Drive & Live: La bohème at Alexandra Palace.

Messiah from ENO was commissioned by Head of BBC Music TV Commissioning Jan Younghusband for BBC Two, and produced for television by BBC Studios Music and Entertainment Cardiff.



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 accessible to the widest possible audience, as well as offering free tickets for Under 18’s, and for as little as ten pounds for everyone else. We create opera that feels different, theatrical and creatively daring and have 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 the 2018/19 season were first-time bookers and more than 10% of our bookings were by under 30s. Our learning and participation programme ENO Baylis reaches more than 20,000 school children and community groups, and we bring opera into schools, allowing more than 5,000 schoolchildren to experience opera for the first time.

Giving new talent a platform and showcasing the wealth of nationwide operatic talent is fundamental to the ENO’s vision. Our talent development programmes continue to nurture the careers of singers (the ENO Harewood Artist programme), of conductors (the Charles Mackerras Fellowship) and of musicians (ENO Evolve). Demonstrating our ongoing support and development of British talent, 85% of the cast in the 2018-19 season were British or British trained, up 5% from the previous season.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the proportion of our ethnically diverse audience increased from 4% to 10%. 20% of ENO’s principal freelance performers in our last season were people who are ethnically diverse and we are committed to ensuring this level of representation on stage is maintained whenever possible. 13% of our Chorus is similarly represented and 16% of our Board – to be transparent, that is two out of 12 people. In 2019, we announced an ongoing commitment to increasing representation within our Chorus and Orchestra, hiring four new members of the former in order to do so, and starting the process of hiring five new string players from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Similarly, we offer paid Director Observerships every year to those who are currently underrepresented in our industry. We are committed to making the opera industry more inclusive and representative of the society in which we live which stretches across our organisation including the ENO Board and Management. This also means that we are committed to telling a wider range of stories both on and off stage. In Summer 2020 we commissioned ‘What do you hope for?’ – a series of short films, featuring world-class operatic artists responding to the Black Lives Matter movement.

In 2020, despite the challenges presented by the global pandemic, ENO remained committed to its remit as a national arts organisation and dedicated to bringing world-class opera to everyone.

We immediately announced we would be honouring the contracts for those brought on board for productions that had to be cancelled, setting the precedent that many other arts companies subsequently followed. We are proud to support our talented freelancers who work tirelessly to bring the magic of ENO to the stage.

One of the most amazing contributions ENO employees made over the lockdown is down to our phenomenal costume department. Moving away from the captivating costumes of the 2019/20 season operas, the team dedicated themselves to sewing scrubs and producing PPE for London hospitals facing shortages. Raising a remarkable £26,000, the team produced 1,700 pairs of scrubs, 500 hats and 1,000 visors and donated the remaining money to NHS charities.

We partnered with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to develop a social prescribing intervention that will provide crucial support to people recovering from COVID-19, in the first partnership of its kind between a leading arts organisation and an NHS Trust. Led by ENO Baylis, our learning and participation programme, this holistic online programme – ENO Breathe – brings together medical and musical expertise and will provide novel ways to support and empower those recovering from COVID-19, offering tools for self-management, particularly with regards to posture, breath and anxiety.

ENO Drive & Live, the world’s first large scale drive-in opera, wowed audiences in September, marking the first time the company performed together in person since March. Held in the grounds of London’s Alexandra Palace and based on a huge festival-sized stage, the performances of Puccini’s La bohème were rehearsed and performed by two casts and crews in separate bubbles, whilst audiences enjoyed the spectacle from the safety of their vehicles. Additionally, a recorded version of one of the casts aired on Sky Arts, broadcasting Puccini’s magnum opus to the nation.

Returning from the country’s first lockdown, we wanted to perform a work that resonated with our scattered audience, as well as our talented artists and musicians. Despite an impending second lockdown, English National Opera convened to perform Mozart’s Requiem on the London Coliseum stage. Despite no live audience due to restrictions, the poignant requiem was warmly received when it broadcasted on BBC Two, accomplishing what we set out to do – take a moment of remembrance in a time of chaos.

During the summer, we invited young people to submit personal expressions of their lockdown experience, and to help us create a ‘lockdown aria’. We received 50 submissions across several art forms, including music, painting, photography, poetry and more. This culminated in an online exhibition in partnership with Google Arts & Culture and Arts Council England, showcasing and celebrating our participants’ creativity. We commissioned spoken word artist Kieron Rennie to write a new piece weaving the voices of our participants’ voices together.

Simultaneously, we continued to amuse our audiences through social media content created by our brilliant singers and musicians as far ranging as a Gilbert and Sullivan tribute to our NHS and a collaboration with Matt Lucas on his smash-hit record Baked Potato.

ENO is for everyone, and always will be.


About BBC Arts

We believe arts and music make the world a better place by bringing people together through shared experience and understanding, providing a place of inspiration, a means to navigate a complex world and significant health benefits. The BBC is the biggest creator of Arts content and is Britain’s creative partner – allowing the UK to experience the very best arts – when they want, how they want: www.bbc.co.uk/arts.

  • The nation’s stage: access to arts and culture programming for all through the license fee – we create and showcase more arts and culture than any other broadcaster
  • An Innovator: constantly finding new ways to bring the best quality culture to audiences – working with the Arts sector as partner and acting as a hot-house for new talent
  • Britain’s creative partner: a bold force in the UK creative sector as creator and commissioner, also a platform for new talent
  • An investor in quality: we only present the highest quality Arts and culture programming, crafted by skilled production teams and shared with all audiences
  • Bringing the nation together: like no other we create and amplify moments in Arts and culture, cutting through with a broad audience