Slipped Disc editorial
Say what you like about John Berry, who resigned this morning as artistic director of English National Opera, the one quality he had was vision.
He raised ENO high above its station, brought in European directors who had never worked in London before, courted controversialists, locked Peter Sellars into a close relationship with the company and generally created an illusion that ENO was not London’s second opera company but a world-class equal with Munich and the Met.
It was, of course, all smoke and mirrors. ENO never had the cash to compete with La Scala, any more than Bristol City FC does to beat Bayern Munich. Reliant on state funding and pegged at two-thirds of Covent Garden’s subsidy, ENO lacked a power base of wealthy donors to bridge the gap and ran up ever more eye-watering deficits.
Berry’s blithe ambition to do bigger and better was an affront to a down-dumbing, cost-paring Arts Council, which demanded his head.
Four months ago, the heads of all the words leading opera houses published an unprecedented declaration of support for John Berry. The Arts Council’s pen pushers stuffed it in a file.
In the end money speaks, talent walks. It’s a sad day for opera.
What lies ahead is blinkered ambition and fiscal obedience.
John Berry’s eight seasons at ENO will be remembered as glory years. Who will remember the pen pushers?