ENO’s future is blinkered now that Berry’s gone

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?

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  • Sir Peter Jonas says:

    Norman’s editorial skates over one vital aspect of the job that anyone heading the ENO company has to achieve. That is not only the duty to produce exciting and adventurous work on the stage that attracts an audience as well as resists the potentially suffocating ignorance of the Arts Council “pen pushers”. Such a leader must protect artists and all members of a great opera company whether on, behind, under the stage or in the back or front office, against an ACE which has always felt that ENO is a thorn in the side of whatever politically correct or fashionable agenda they are following at any given moment. John Berry was an effective and trenchant advocate for the ENO company. They, individuals and collectives together with their representatives, must ensure that whoever succeeds him is, aside from his or her artistic qualities, a vociferous, awkward and eloquently persuasive advocate for ENO and the art form of music theatre and opera. ENO has given so much to the art form since the days of Lilian Baylis. We must not stifle its vision..

  • Paul Joschak says:

    Perfectly put!! The man’s a tool.

  • William Whitby says:

    Totally confused by Paul’s comment. Who’s the tool? Norman, Sir Peter or John Berry? Please be more specific – some rationale on the nature of of the toolness would also be helpful. Better still, perhaps we could up the quality of the commentary….just a thought.

  • Daniel Knapp says:

    Sad for opera. Congrats ACE, Arts Cowards of England

  • Dissenting Voice says:

    London doesn’t need two opera houses, and clearly ACE resents funding more than one. So here’s what you could do: fold the tent, move the company out of London, scrap the anachronistic English-language-only trademark, rent out the Coliseum or put it up for sale; may seem radical but tough times call for tough solutions, and ENO faces a stark future unless some bold moves are made. Perhaps a merger with Birmingham Opera, another financially penurious but artistically courageous national company? Or maybe set up shop in Bristol, creating a South West Opera company along the lines of Opera North? Any of these would be better than folding up completely, which remains a real (and possibly imminent) prospect.

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