Why the opera world is backing John  Berry

Why the opera world is backing John Berry


norman lebrecht

March 09, 2015

Today’s extraordinary, unanimous declaration of support for English National Opera’s embattled chief was not just a matter of collegial solidarity and personal friendship. For weeks, frowns have been forming on the brows of opera planners the world over as to what would happen if Berry was sacked.

Put simply, John Berry has made ENO indispensanble to world opera by acting as a staging post and clearing house for new productions. The Metropolitan Opera trials new shows at the Coliseum before they go to New York. So does Bavarian State Opera, Madrid and many more. London, through Berry, has become an opera hub as never before.

The only people who failed to notice ENO’s significant role were certain members of Arts Council England and several on Berry’s own board, some of whom had personal axes to grind. ACE slashed his funding; the board tried to fire him.

That’s when the alrm bells started ringing around the opera world. We understand that the twin leaders of the Berry fightback were Peter Gelb at the Met and Alexander Neef at Canadian Opera Company.

One European chief they contacted wrote back: ‘No need to show me the statement. If it supports John, sign it in my name.’

This has been a wakeup day for opera managers and funders. Let’s hope ENO’s new acting CEO can put the house in order.


john berry


  • William Boughton says:

    Does this mark a seismic change in the arts world – the artistic v the accountants? Now ACE needs to reverse it’s financial cut to ENO and invest more in this adventurous Company. The bean-counters at ACE have always lacked courage and based funding of their clients (stupid term as it’s public money and a distribution agency) on the sole ability of organizations to manage their finances. The quality of ACE’s Artistic Advisors is a subject for another article! I hope the Boards of ENO and ACE will now appreciate the creativity of John Berry and his service to ENO.

  • SDReader says:


    If the witch-hunt against him is being led by the opera man at the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette, then he is probably toast.

    And we can be sure the McKinsey consultant isn’t going to stick her neck, or McKinsey’s, out to help him, no matter what the world’s top impresarios unanimously (minus the ROH) say.

    Sometimes good régimes come to bad ends, especially when money is tight.

  • SC says:

    Not to be silly but does this mean that this blog now thinks Peter Gelb has done one good thing in his life?

  • william osborne says:

    If only all these opera CEOs would make a combined statement urging the USA to move beyond its ranking of 39th in the world for opera performances per capita. The John Berry issue is tiny by comparison. Can they not think beyond their small, chummy world of cronies to the larger issues facing the opera world?

  • Una says:

    This is very good news as ENO do fine work but with the snobbery around and the fact that do opera in English, they are not valued or appreciated enough as an asset. The way that John Berry has been treated has been absolutely disgraceful. All thanks to those who have stood by him and his lovely wife Philippa in the background.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Not sure why they still do opera in English, even Purcell and Britten always have English surtitles. Many continental opera houses used to do opera in the local language and sometimes even had visiting superstars singing in Italian or German while everyone else sang in Czech or Hungarian. Abandoned everywhere I think.

      • Jenny B says:

        My very first visit to ENO last night, and I go to a lot of opera! I went for Meistersinger, which was excellent musically but ruined by being sung in English. It made it sound like Gilbert and Sullivan. Opera loses so much by being sung in English that I will not go there again. Also I worry that the singers will miss out on their careers if they do not learn and practice opera in the language in which it is sung in the rest of the world.