English National Opera is big loser in Arts Council shareout

English National Opera is big loser in Arts Council shareout


norman lebrecht

July 01, 2014

The enterprising, internationally engaged London company will lose £5 million of its grant next year, reducing its handout to £12.4 million.

£3.1 million of that saving will go to Northern Ballet, a company of local repute.

This has nothing to do with art, everything to do with political capital.

Shame on Peter Bazalgette, ACE chair and former chair of ENO.


UPDATE: ENO response here.

Arts Council justification: ‘In spite of the indisputably ambitious quality of work and the important role this company plays in developing talent, ENO has struggled to reach box office targets and to achieve long-term stability.’

How stupid is that? They are the go-to production centre for the Met, Munich, Amsterdam and more. They bring more credit to Britain than the rest of the opera sector combined. So the ACE cut their grant.



  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    It’s their own fault. Stop doing rubbish shows. Sing in the proper language – sod the charter now. Use the Coliseum stage properly – get rid of those black borders. Do concessions at every performance , sell standing room at the back of the balcony(100 places – the numbers were removed at the refurbishment and mysteriously disappeared. (the dress circle is rubbish).
    Stop selling balcony tickets in the back row at £30 each! It’s cheaper to go to the Royal Opera House and stand and hear it in the correct language. If you have t have surtitles when you sing in English there is obviously no point. get your house in order!

  • Halldor says:

    Got to love the kneejerk Metro-snobbery: Northern Ballet performs regularly in 9 major UK cities. But that’s merely “local”, apparently, whereas ENO (last ventured out of London, I’m guessing, some time in the Harold Wilson era) is “international”.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      ENO has been prevented from touring by ACE edict for 25 years. They are the main overseas co-producer with the Met, Amsterdam, Munich, Madrid. International enough?

      • Halldor says:

        Anything there that couldn’t be done (probably better) by the other major opera company half a mile down the road? ACE has a remit to serve the whole country.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          ACE is a political chameleon that funds Welsh National Opera to tour England, but not ENO. There’s no logic here, just patchwork politics and bureaucratic job-keeping.

  • Gav says:

    i totally agree. the accoustic is terrible. and who wants to hear italian opera done in english? and its cheaper to go to covent garden! a no brainer ….

  • Anne says:

    Politics, as you say. It shouldn’t come as any surprise with an election looming and regular complaints here and there about the disparity in funding between London and the “regions” (code for “North”). Expect more.

    Superficially, they have a point. The difference per capita is huge, but tends to override the more meaningful statistic of subsidy per attendance, where I understand the difference is much less striking.

    As Robert Garbolinski says, so far as the ENO is concerned, it’s largely self inflicted.

  • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

    I must take issue with Mr Garbolinski above. It really is not the ENO’s own fault they have lost a substantial portion of their grant. It is clearly a political choice, and a very regrettable one.

    Thee ENO does not put on rubbish shows in general. Whether a production is to one’s taste is only a matter of taste. But the ENO has put on many fine and successful productions in recent years, not to mention the whole time of its existence, and the loyalty of its regular audience – the majority of whom actually like to hear opera sung in English, by the way – is testament to that. All opera companies have their ups and downs in terms of productions, and the ENO is no exception. But to be quite frank, the good at the ENO far outweighs the bad, and I find it disgraceful that the ENO should be undermined with a massive cut in funding when the company is already working very hard to maintain it’s present financial stability and – the vast majority of the time – its artistic and musical integrity.

    As far as productions and casting etc. go, the ENO has always tried to work to the highest possible standards. Yes, there have been shows that have not been successful at the box office or musically, vocally, technically or artistically, but I am afraid that is par for the course with any opera company. To compare it to ROH Covent garden is a bit rich considering that the ROH has also had its own fair share of “flops” in recent years. The fact that both companies are vulnerable to mistakes and miscalculations in respect of artistic and financial success is completely understandable, even more so at the ENO where the policy of the company for 50 years or more has been to try and push the boundaries artistically – something that it has often excelled at while the house round the corner has struggled more often than not.

    As for the language: the whole ethos and reason for ENO’s existence is to bring opera to its audience in the language of the vast majority of its audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with performing Italian, French, German, Czech, Russian opera in English, surtitles or no! Yes, when the translations are bad it can be very disturbing, but to my ears many of the translations in the last 30-40 years have got better and better, more singable, and more in tune with the music as well as often being geared towards particular production styles. The only thing that annoys me is the often lack of a conscientious approach of some performers to actually singing in English, sometimes even when the score might have been written originally in English. Of course it is always wonderful to hear the original language in non-English language operas, but I certainly don’t believe it is the only choice that a performer or an opera company should have. The tradition of singing as many productions as possible in English is no different to the tradition of companies like the Komische Oper in Berlin and other German houses of singing opera in the language of their audience. Even in Italy there are companies who are known to sometimes translate German, English and French opera into Italian for their native audience. I have spent years singing opera in English as well as the original language, and it has NEVER disturbed me as a performer to work hard at putting across a good translation to an English speaking audience. What does irk me is the seemingly snobbish attitude that some people have towards opera sung in English translation, while not understanding its merits both for the listener and the performer.

    Yes, there are things about the ENO that could be improved, and Mr Garbolinski’s comments in respect of ticket prices, seating, etc. are certainly things which ought to have been addressed already. I would also suggest that it is a shame that there is no longer a strong and broadly based permanent soloist ensemble – by which I mean a reasonably large ensemble that reflects the spectrum of experience and variety of casting that used to be one of the ENO’s greatest assets back in the 60s, 70’s and 80’s.

    Despite some of the shortcomings administratively, despite some of the miscalculated choices in casting & directors & conductors, despite the occasional flop, and despite the constant fight the ENO has endured to justify its existence, I sincerely believe the ENO is a necessary balance artistically and musically to the other opera companies in the UK. In one doesn’t like what they put on and how they put it on, well one doesn’t have to go. But that does not mean that it has no worth or is of a lower standard. The ENO has an International reputation (and I have worked and lived outside of the UK long enough now to really understand that).

    I am proud that I spent the best part of my now 40 year career singing at the ENO to an audience – in English – that appreciated just how important the company was and is to the Arts in London, the UK and Europe. I sincerely hope that the ENO is able to endure this setback in financial support. Respect!

  • Abramovic says:


    The Government needed a high profile London “victim” to shout about.


    • Anon says:

      Eh? You over-estimate the importance of opera. I don’t see any government shouting about any victim, opera or otherwise.

      • Abramovic says:

        You’ve missed the point in a monumental way.

        There have been complaints, many in fact, about the proportion of Arts Council funding going to London. Now the Government thinks it can defuse this to some extent, as and when the need arises, by pointing to the ENO cut.

        You’ve taken my “shout about” comment far too literally.

        It’s not a matter of opera’s importance, quite the opposite. It’s the most common target when people want to take a pop at arts subsidies. Opera wasn’t considered important enough to justify the Cardiff Bay Opera House project. Reducing the ENO’s grant helps keep the tabloids quiet. Like I said, politics.

  • Abramovic says:

    Good point.

    Remember Gove and Osborne sneaking into Covent Garden for The Ring?

  • Anon says:

    Er, are we reacting too quickly here?

    John Berry says “The total sum of £44.8m available funding over three years is equivalent to the amount applied for by ENO in its NPO funding application.”

    So if they got the total they were asking for, what’s the problem? You can’t expect ACE to start offering extra funds saying “it seems you didn’t ask for enough”, aside from being daft, we’d all be accusing Bazalgette of helping his former institution at the expense of others!

    • Abramovic says:

      True, unless they were tipped off beforehand and given some idea what to expect.

      • Funder says:

        Of course they were told how much funding they might receive and the types of plans moving forward they need to implement prior to bid submission. Further, core restructuring will no doubt be necessary.

  • Emil Archambault says:

    When is the last time the ENO sold out a show? Discounts are always available, at ridiculous prices. The ACE should not reward incompetence.