John Berry: ENO is being funded at 1994 levelsmain
The former artistic director of English National Opera has written to the Sunday Times correcting a spate of inaccuracies and misapprehensions in its chief critic’s reporting of the crisis. Here’s his letter:
poster: Carmen at ENO
The article “Notes on a scandal at ENO” (Culture, last week) is based on incorrect assumptions. In light of the recent 30% funding cut to ENO, after years of standstill grants and cuts, the company’s grant is now close to what it was in 1994. This is equivalent to a small, regional European opera house and is just a fraction of the budget of large, international houses.
Hugh Canning praises the 1989-90 season for offering 18 productions, six of which were new, yet criticises productivity during my tenure. My last season had 15 productions, nine of which were new. He also criticises what he calls “expensive” co-productions.
By co-producing with international houses, I was able to secure multimillion-pound investment resulting in more than 40 productions, created and premiered by ENO, such as Terry Gilliam’s Benvenuto Cellini, Anthony Minghella’s Madam Butterfly and David Alden’s Peter Grimes — all applauded in your pages. ENO’s audiences would not have experienced any of this work without international investment.
His criticism that the programming is “offbeat” and “esoteric” is misleading given that the majority of our awards were for mainstay repertoire such as Wagner, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Janacek and Britten. Over the past 10 years ENO has wonmore prestigious opera awards than any other UK opera company.
Canning is inaccurate that Rupert Goold’s production of Turandot “struggled . . . at the box office”, since it was one of the biggest-selling shows, attracting more than 27,000 people.
It was decided that rather than renting out Easter weeks to visiting dance companies, ENO would mount an annual musical, thereby utilising our orchestra and providing increased revenue. This was underwritten, at zero financial risk to ENO, by a commercial producer, and the first project, Sweeney Todd, was a huge success.
I am delighted at the praise Canning heaps on Mark Wigglesworth, not only because I am proud to have hired him but because I endorse his passionate commitment to retaining his orchestra and chorus.
John Berry CBE, Former Artistic Director, ENO