Demand for an ENO Commons inquiry

Demand for an ENO Commons inquiry


norman lebrecht

July 13, 2015

The Hon Jesse Norman, MP
House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee


Dear Jesse Norman

Sorry to be a few days late in congratulating you on the committee chairmanship. Your father, Torquil, who restored the Roundhouse as an arts centre, must be so proud.

I am writing in the matter of English National Opera, urging you to call an inquiry into its present lamentable decapitation – no chairman, chief executive or artistic director, and an incoming music director who’s feeling rather abandoned. How did a national treasure get into that deplorable situation?

Briefly, under its last short-term chairman, Peter Bazalgette, ENO ran up a huge debt. Bazalgeete moved swiftly on to become chairman of Arts Council England where – with a sinner’s arrogance – he has been pressuring ENO to sack its artistic director, John Berry, whom he blamed for the overspend – and for other executive departures.

John Berry resigned on Friday. He’s your first witness.

This has been an appalling saga of administrative negligence in the face of artistic vision. The Arts Council needs to be called to account, not just Bazalgette (who is required to leave the room when ENO is discussed) but the former chief executive Alan Davey who played the Wolfgang Schäuble role in the ball-squeezing scenario. The ACE has been party to a putsch.

Your next witness should be the former music director, Edward Gardner, who was caught in a vice of international pressures. Followed by Henriette Götz, who lasted less than a year as executive director. More heads have rolled than anywhere outside IS control.

The full story of backroom threats and boardroom helplessness needs to be aired if ENO is to recover its rightful place as the people’s opera house. Call an inquiry, please. Call Slipped Disc if you need more information.

best wishes


Norman Lebrecht

coliseum eno



  • CDH says:

    1. Writer can’t count to three.

    2. Vise, not vice

    3. The comparison to IS is beyond odious.

    4. Call Slipped Disc? How about calling ENO? Nothing arrogant there.

    • Michael Wilkinson says:

      Agree on 3, but in English English, not US, ‘vice’ is correct.

      More significantly, ENO is a true national treasure. There have been some dud productions but an adventurousness rare at Covent Garden, and a lively awareness that there is more to opera than endless reruns of the standard Italian repertoire. In the last season, as well as the astonishing Mastersingers, there has been orchestral playing and choral singing at the highest level.

      What would be good would be a commitment from the Arts Council to support ENO to produce more British opera, moving beyond Britten into other twentieth century repertoire. There are some remarkable pieces, too little known.

      The opportunity needs to be taken to rebuild. Mark Wigglesworth is a splendid choice, and it would be good to build the future around him.

  • Peter Freeman says:

    The problem with your idea, MW, is that the repertoire you desire to see performed, with rare exceptions, has very slight audience drawing power, and the Coliseum is a big house to fill by European standards. What does draw the public is melody on account of its memorability.

  • Christopher White says:

    How utterly loathsome to make comparisons with Islamic State. That oh-so-clever little aside is beneath contempt.

  • William says:

    Actually lots of the things that have filled ENO in recent years have been the more unusual things – the Adams and Glass operas for example, whereas warhorses often find the place with swathes of empty seats. The more adventurous work tends to be newsworthy and get people talking whereas no one is going to write a feature piece about the umpteenth revival of Tosca.

    • V.Lind says:

      If I want to hear Tosca I’ll go up the road and hear it in Italian. Something to be said for ENO trying the new — and from what I have read, William is right. I think a lot of its audience would rather try something new and exciting than hear what I would not necessarily call warhorses in teh wrong language.

  • Alexander Brown says:

    Hear, hear Norman! As a former employee of the ENO (30 odd years ago), I can only echo your words – these disgraceful shenanigans must be stopped and ENO given the respect (and financial resources) it so thoroughly deserves!

  • William Whitby says:

    ENO needs to regain its sense of pride in what it does. Berry’s regime was built around a single thing – Berry not ENO. And that means you lose touch with your audience. Of course you can explore repertoire as Michael Wilkinson suggests, but you can only do that if you build trust between the company and its ticket buyers so that they’ll come with you. Berry definitely had some hits, but the poor artistic decisions he frequently made were built on an arrogant patrician assumption that he knew best and that the peasants queuing at the Box Office didn;t know what was good for them. Calixto Bieito back season after season with more dismal 1970s “experimental” theatre set on the toilet or in a brothel or who cares where? Come on ENO, get a decent collaborative artistically literate director in and go back to basics. And stop blaming that magnificent Frank Matcham designed Coliseum. The food’s crap and the loos smell but the building is terrific. Put better stuff in it and the audiences will come back.