Opera leaders rally in defence of ENO’s John Berry

Opera leaders rally in defence of ENO’s John Berry


norman lebrecht

March 09, 2015

In an extraordinary show of unanimity, the leaders of all the world’s major opera houses have signed a declaration of support for the embattled director of English National Opera. From Peter Gelb at the Met to Vladimir Urin at the Bolshoi, the opera community denounces recent attempts (by the Arts Council and his own board) to unseat Berry, pointing out that the financial diffficulties he faces are shared around the world>

The signatories are individuals of high ego worth. They could not normally becounted on to agree if the sun was shining. Their declaration is a mark both of Berry’s personal popularity and of his importance across the operatic spectrum.

Read it below. UPDATE: And here’s why they did it.

john berry



As the leaders of opera companies and festivals around the world, we are alarmed by the

recent questions that have arisen regarding English National Opera and its talented Artistic

Director, John Berry, since they are certainly not deserved. Under Berry’s strong ten-year

leadership, the ENO is today regarded as one of the most creative forces in opera,

consistently producing important new work. The ENO is a showcase for local talent and

theatrical innovation, with the current hit run of Richard Jones’s production of Wagner’s Die

Meistersinger von Nürnberg just the latest example in a long string of artistic successes for

Berry and his company.


The ENO’s co-productions with other international companies have wisely saved it millions

of pounds in shared production expenses in recent years, while at the same time making it

one of the U.K.’s greatest cultural ambassadors. In fact, this season alone, 18 ENO co-

productions will have been seen in 17 different opera houses in 8 countries, with tens of

thousands of international opera lovers in attendance from New York to Perth.


At a time when it has helped to further embellish London’s reputation as a leading center of

cultural creativity, it doesn’t seem fair for the ENO to now be under fire.


It is not the fault of the ENO that it is suffering from the same financial woes that many

international opera companies are facing these days. Rather than being criticized, Berry and

his company should be applauded for their indefatigable efforts to keep our art form fresh.

We stand together in support of him and his notable achievements.


Yours sincerely,

Pierre Audi


Dutch National Opera

Nikolaus Bachler


Bavarian State Opera



Artistic Director

Opera Vlaanderen

Jean-Luc Choplin

Director General

Theatre du Chatelet


David Devan

General Director

Opera Philadelphia

Marc de Mauny

General Manager

Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre

Serge Dorny


Opéra de Lyon

Bernard Foccroulle


Festival d’Aix-en-Provence


Peter Gelb

General Manager

The Metropolitan Opera


Valery Gergiev

Artistic and General Director

Mariinsky Theatre

Roland Geyer


Theatre an der Wien

David Gockley

General Director

San Francisco Opera

Christopher Hahn

General Director

Pittsburgh Opera

Per Boye Hansen

Opera Director

Den Norske Opera og Ballett, Oslo

Dr. Bernhard Helmich


Theater Bonn

Andreas Homoki


Opera Zurich


Christopher Koelsch

President and CEO

LA Opera

Barrie Kosky


Komische Oper Berlin


Aidan Lang

General Director

Seattle Opera

Bernd Loebe

Director and Chief Executive

Oper Frankfurt

Stéphane Lissner


Paris National Opera


Charles MacKay

General Director

The Santa Fe Opera

Joan Matabosch

Artistic Director

Teatro Real, Madrid


Joseph V. Melillo

Executive Producer

Brooklyn Academy of Music

Dominique Meyer


Vienna State Opera


Alexander Neef

General Director

Canadian Opera Company

Timothy O’Leary

General Director

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis


Alexander Pereira

General Manager and Artistic Director

Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Tobias Richter

General Manager

Grand Théâtre de Genève

Christina Scheppelmann

Artistic Director

Gran Teatre del Liceu

Dietmar Schwarz


Deutsche Oper Berlin

Vladimir Urin

General Director


Jossi Wieler


Stuttgart State Opera


  • heyfigaro says:

    This is an extraordinary show of support, without doubt, from people who are sympathetic to the problems but largely immune to Berry’s situation at ENO. The American signatories raise money largely through private and commercial sponsorship; the European signatories mostly receive far more generous state support than is available in the UK. All these companies have had to address funding issues, and have mostly done so successfully. Many have co-produced with ENO but that doesn’t give them any insight into ENO’s box office struggle to sell tickets on its home turf. No-one listed here has really experienced Berry’s financial problem, which is how to replace Arts Council funding with alternative income. So they have little ground for comment. It’s good to have income from co-pros around the world but ENO has to stay alive at home first and foremost on its house revenue. What concerns the Arts Council is that attendance and box-office income is declining: why? The answer must be attributed to the artistic direction of the company.
    So it seems that Berry and his Board are living on borrowed time: how are they going to woo the London audience back into the Coliseum? People say the venue is too big to fill – but it wasn’t too big 20 years ago, when the company was on an artistic roll. Berry has made some strong and courageous artistic decisions, not all of them successful but some of them brilliant. But the public are voting with their feet and income at the box-office is slipping downwards. That is what is troubling the Arts Council: is public money getting good value for its subsidy? At the moment, they think clearly not – hence the reduction of financial support and the new measures to scrutinise every aspect of ENO’s finances.
    So the model must change, reflecting the wonderful fact that opera now pops up all over the place in surprising ways. ENO has done its bit in this regard, staging productions at the Young Vic and elsewhere. But rather cynical gestures like semi-staging Sweeney Todd at the Coliseum are unlikely to enhance the image of an opera company operating at full voltage, and nor is Mike Leigh’s Pirates of Penzanze going to draw the core opera audience back in. An artistic rethink is needed.
    Berry has been in his position for ten years and this is longer than most people can fruitfully serve in such a post. Operating in such a hostile environment cannot be helpful for anyone currently working at ENO. So it’s time for a change and, with respect to the signatories above – a new vision. Despite what everyone loves to say: it’s not the Coliseum that’s the problem: it’s what you put on there that matters. ENO has been failing to engage and attract its audience for too long now and it needs to address its artistic vision immediately – or it will disappear. No-one with a love of the theatrical intensity and musical richness that ENO is capable of wants that to happen.

  • Laura says:

    My very good student auditioned at northwestern hoping to study with Mr. Vamos. I had let her know of the rumors I had heard, but northwestern abruptly discontinued Mr. Vamos’ tenure. She spent time and money to go to the audition at northwestern and was admitted- but no teacher!!! She got there and was told Vamos was no longer there. They should foot the bill for her travel expense.