Peter Jonas: Europe is amazed at attacks on ENO

Peter Jonas: Europe is amazed at attacks on ENO


norman lebrecht

December 12, 2015

Here is the full text of the letter by Sir Peter Jonas, published by the Times newspaper today in an edited form.

coliseum eno


Here in Europe there is astonishment at the threat to ENO, its artists and support staff. ENO’s orchestra, chorus, principals and backstage workers are the company. ENO’s only other resource and asset is the freehold of the Coliseum. At the end of my eight-year tenure as the company’s General Director, in 1993, the board delegated me to purchase the theatre’s freehold from the estate of Robert Holmes-à-Court. Together with Lord Harewood, our chairman, Lord Carr and Nicholas Goodison, our vice chairmen, we secured the Coliseum for the nation in order to underpin ENO’s future for UKL 12.4 million. The funds were raised with the help of the then arts minister David Mellor directly from government with £1m from the National Lottery. An extra million was generously donated by the late Garfield Weston to kick start renovation of the building. The Arts Council did not provide a penny and, perhaps out of pique, demanded a charge be put on the freehold whereby if ENO should cease to exist in its present form as a full time company presenting opera and ballet, the freehold could be appropriated by the Council.

The present attempt by the Arts Council to cut down the already reduced ENO chorus and orchestra, thereby reducing the output of performances, could lead to the Council attempting to call in the charge on the freehold of the Coliseum thus destroying ENO as a company and, in plain English, stealing its assets by taking advantage of a weak board and inexperienced management.

The Arts Council was founded to be a chosen advocate for the arts not to govern artistic

institutions, dictate artistic policy or act as a property speculator without public consultation.

Yours etc.peter jonas

Sir Peter Jonas CBE

General Director, ENO 1985-1993

Intendant, Bavarian State Opera, Munich 1993-2006


  • Eddie Mars says:

    As Sir Peter has clearly seen, the plans being discussed for ENO’s future consist of consciously underfunding it to make it unfit for purpose – and then using that as a rationale for closing it down.

    May I kindly ask our dear friends Halldor, DLowe and their colleagues to cut out the middleman – and forward their personal insults and vein-throbbing venting directly to Sir Peter? I’m sure he’ll be pleased to hear from such ‘experts’.

    • DLowe says:

      I find Sir Peter’s letter very interesting and reasonable, and actually your first paragraph too. The only thing I take exception to is poor debating which resorts to personal insults and vulgar language.

      I’d imagine the European arts titans must be permanently contemptuous of British attitudes to the Arts.

      • Eddie Mars says:

        Then I really wonder why you do it (((

      • Ellingtonia says:

        There is nothing wrong with British attitudes to the arts, people go regularly to concerts of different genres of music that receive no state subsidy. Performers have to provide a product that people will pay to hear and artists have to do everything possible to encourage them to attend their concerts. Or did you mean classical music / opera when you mentioned “attitudes to the arts?”

    • Halldor says:

      Sir Peter, unarguably, knows what he’s talking about.
      I’ll leave it at that.

  • MXJK says:

    silence. the comments here.

  • Igor Kennaway says:

    Ars longa, vita brevis sadly does not seem to apply to ENO’s threatened existence. Obviously its recent perilous financial state must have been caused by managerial decisions, and as such, has provided the Arts Council with sufficient grounds to pull the plug. Sir Peter Jonas has raised the matter of the Arts Council’s leverage over the freehold of the Coliseum, all of which could suggest Machiavellian motivations in excess of simply wishing to curb further financial disasters. But the decline and possible death of this once great operatic power house bodes ill for the cultural vibrancy of the nation and will only reinforce the view that successive governments in recent years are philistine. Long gone are the enlightened days of Jennie Lee and Lord Goodman:’ tempi passati.’ Sadly, we are also witnessing similar side-tracking of Music and Drama in the idiocies of the National Curriculum.