I’m really intrigued by the next offering from English National Opera at their home The Coliseum. It’s a new piece called JACK THE RIPPER: THE WOMEN OF WHITECHAPEL and it’s by Iain Bell and Emma Jenkins.
They’re going to have to tread very carefully to avoid any accusations of glorifying the horrific series of real-life brutal rapes and murders that lie behind one of Victorian London’s most iconic crimes. The Ripper myth still titillates and intrigues, steeped in the menace of smog, back alleys, cheap sex, corruption and collusion with a fascinating “who-done” it at its core. But is it wrong in our more enlightened times to see it as a source of entertainment?
I think we can conclude that by naming the women it the title that the creative team will be making them central figures rather than peripheral characters in a show about a twisted man.
Advanced publicity confirms this, stating “the story of the most notorious serial killer in British history is told from the perspective of his victims”.
The company, we’re informed, “will be portraying a community of grinding hardship as it comes under terrifying attack. The 1888 Whitechapel dosshouse that unites the victims provides the setting for a look at the hypocrisy of a Victorian society that could discard working class women so readily”.
Composer Iain Bell comments “Both my parents were born in the East End and London remains a constant muse in my work. Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel is the third in a triptych of London operas I’ve written following A Harlot’s Progress and A Christmas Carol. In each of these cases I have sought to delve into the London that gave birth to these characters and circumstances. Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel first and foremost afforded me the opportunity to explore the dignity and humanity of the women whose lives he stole, whilst cracking opening a window into the life of the Victorian poor; a society with whom we still share uncomfortable parallels. Every street corner, every pub, every alley bears witness to its own Whitechapel.”
We’re also promised “An extraordinary cast of some of the most distinguished female singers of the last 50 years of UK opera assemble to give voice to these women, so long overshadowed by the mystery surrounding the identity of their killer”.
Those distinguished singers include Josephine Barstow, Susan Bullock, Lesley Garrett, Janis Kelly, Marie McLaughlin and Natalya Romaniw.
ENO management have declared JACK THE RIPPER: THE WOMEN OF WHITECHAPEL to be “one of the most anticipated operatic events of the year”.
They could be right!