Exclusive: ENO slashes chorus

Exclusive: ENO slashes chorus


norman lebrecht

January 20, 2016

A source in the English National Orchestra says that they were told today of plans to cut the chorus.

As of next season, chorus members will have their contracts cut to 75% of present contracts and will be out of work from May to August.

The orchestra were also told that there is no guarantee for the future.

English National Opera is under extreme financial pressure since the Arts Concil cut their grant.

By general consent, they are producing their best work, but the Arts Council is not intereted in art.

The effect on the chorus will be devastating. Some will have to leave London to make ends meet.

Bad, bad news.

coliseum eno

UPDATE: An ENO official tells us nothing is final, negotiations continue. But there will have to be cuts.



    to 75 per cent or by 75 per cent?

    • Jane Pountney says:

      Why don’t you wait for an announcement? Leaking of rumours won’t help to save the company

      • Violachick says:

        It’s no rumour Jane – I’ve seen an email from the MU about it, and this is just one of several aspects to cuts which will ravage the chorus. So very disappointing, and we can only hope that Scottish Opera’s axeman doesn’t get away with doing the same here as he (and presumably also the board and management) seems to intend. Happy 85th birthday ENO – what a miserable way to celebrate.

    • norman lebrecht says:


    • JohnnyFox says:

      TO 75%. Everyone gets this wrong, it’s not ‘slashed by 75%’ the proposal is to not pay them for the three-month summer layoff. I’m only commenting on the mathematics, not the rights or wrongs of the issue.

  • Ppellay says:

    Well, I’m sure Richard Morrison will be happy with that. As for the rest of us, that’s another story entirely.

  • James Oldfield says:

    Very sad times

  • Ellingtonia says:

    Why should they be viewed any differently than the miners at Kellingly Colliery or the steelworkers on Teeside or South Wales. The arts world really do think that they are a protected species, well chaps welcome to the real world. As the ones I have mentioned have been told, go back to education, retrain, find a different career, the working class have been doing this since the late 1970s when much of British industry was destroyed.
    Yes, it is sad for all those who have been made redundant (four times in my own case) but it does force you to look at the world in a different way and be resilient in facing a life changing situation.

    • bp1swuk says:

      I take it you are employed by the Arts Council.

      • Ellingtonia says:

        Nope! Wouldn’t know the Arts council if it hit me in the face. However, I did spend 13 years living in Sheffield during the 70s and 8os and saw the decimation of the steel,coal and other manufacturing industries. So I don’t understand why the “arts luvvies” should consider themselves a protected species.
        As regards the comments about wages, well lets be honest, singing in the chorus at ENO hardly justifies earning the kind of wages as the dangerous and demanding jobs in the coal and steel industries and if they felt badly done to they could have relocated North to seek better paid employment (I think it is called the labour market!)……….but oh, I forgot, the north had been decimated by job losses…………

        • Allen says:

          “So I don’t understand why the “arts luvvies” should consider themselves a protected species.”

          Where do they claim this? Or is it just wishful thinking on your part?

          And as pointed out below, there was little mining left by the time that Labour had finished with it.

          • Maree-rose in OZ says:

            “Arts Luvvies?”…Wake up!! ENO is a national industry that is a drawcard for tourists, and how many millions do tourists spend in the West End? This is only the cusp of a global phenomena – live music venues all over the world are shutting down. Its not a precious “Luvvy” industry either – why dont you try getting fit enough to sing Mozart non stop for two hours plonker! – and sing and stand all day in rehearsals, and while you are at, people in the entertainment industry work shift hours like restauranteurs and hospital staff/medicos, because they are dedicated to what they do and others love. In the case of ENO, these singers, all of them, are the best team from all over the Commonwealth! In the UK, ENO is not about money its about artistry – anyone can go – and the best man wins when it comes to auditions! This is like running for England and singing for your country, like an Olympic sport!!!. Try cutting all the archery and flower throwing from the Olympic Games and see how people squeal!

    • Geoff R says:

      Compare the salaries of steel-workers and chorus members, if they are working I would guess that the annual take home of the steel-workers is perhaps double that of members of the chorus. Any specialists comments?

    • Anne63 says:

      Those with longer memories will recall a time when coal miners and steel workers considered themselves a protected species. Tube drivers still do. They also consumed a considerable amount in subsidy. Far more than the ENO chorus.

      Lastly, pit closures and industrial decline were NOT confined to the late 1970s but your comment makes it clear where you are coming from. The NUM’s own website says:

      “Between the years 1957 and 1963, no less than 264 collieries were closed, while the number of miners fell by nearly 30 per cent. During this six-year period, Scotland lost 39 per cent of its pits, while 30 per cent of those in South Wales, Northumberland and Durham were wiped out.

      Throughout the 1060s (sic), with a Labour Government in office from 1964, the pit closure programme accelerated; it decimated the industry. During this period, nearly 300 more pits were closed, and the total workforce slumped from over 750,000 in the late 1950s down to 320,000 by 1968. In many parts of Britain, miners now became known as �industrial gypsies� as pit closures forced them to move from coalfield to coalfield in search of secure jobs.”

      • rita says:

        I’ve been through this process in another EU country and I think the first commentator here has a point: theatres are prone to imagine that they are not inside the fight of the working class, but they are, or should be – although it’s a bit late for true solidarity now.

    • Maree-rose in OZ says:

      Does anyone ever consider that they may have been conned into thinking the “Arts” – take opera for example – is just for the elite? Just for those who can afford it? 8.50GBP for a child to attend a dress rehearsal?- get real people, apathy, and lack of opportunity is what sits at at the heart of the Arts patterns of consumption. When will you all realise- England sits at the heart of the Commonwealth – The Commonwealth comprises 53 countries, across all six inhabited continents. The members have a combined population of 2.1 billion. Its “English National Opera”. Unfortunately you cant pin an opera singer to a wall in a museum for the masses to gawp at, we are a breed that has to be carefully cultivated like espaliers, and trained up around a stage; we have seasons and there are different species of us! Don’t lose something that is a world icon; the permanent chorus is a body of corporate knowledge. What a lot of heathen philistines we are becoming in the modern world. We spurn anything that doesn’t go fast and give us instant gratification, yet opera live can do both! Maybe it should have been called English Commonwealth Opera in the first place?????? Ask CHOGM for a grant!

  • Nicolas Mansfield says:

    Must be ‘to’. I could (and probably will) write a book about how to dust yourself down after the ravages of cuts. Thoughts are with the singers and their families as uncertain times loom.

  • Sue Dunnim says:

    You’ll note no cuts to the administrative staff… As in Scotland. You’d think the musicians would be last to go. And you’d be wrong.

  • John Groves says:

    Very sad news – and, to be frank, it’s all down to financial and other mismanagement by senior figures within ENO who have now ‘resigned’! One cannot just blame the Arts Council. It would be failing in its duty if it did not want value for money, and Opera North and WNO will be presenting (and touring – which must be more expensive!) more work next season than ENO! – and for smaller subsidies!

    • Graeme Hall says:

      I don’t wish to see harm oto ENO or to set one company against another, but I can’t help but wonder what Opera North could do with just a little of the money that ENO gets.

      • Ellingtonia says:

        Good god sir, are you suggesting that they should divert resources from London to the provinces (quick with the smelling salts) so that we plebs “up north” can enjoy a little more “culture?”
        I mean, who up here would want to go and see Jenufa and other enterprising productions of lesser known operas by Opera North?
        No, we must stamp on this quickly otherwise the uppity northerners will be asking for items from the British Museum and the Tate Gallery next.
        Dontchanow that art and culture is for residents of the inner M25………….

        • Frederick West says:

          I think you’ll find it should be ‘the t’north’ – well said t’awd lad, and you get a decent pint with, horror, a head on ‘t. Proper pies as well. Opera the t’North do seem to do well indeed, I have my Ring t’tickets for this year and look forward to reading t’ subtitles in tykespeak.

  • Will Duffay says:

    Setting aside the rights and wrongs of ENO (poor productions, poor management, bad ticket pricing policy, inappropriate theatre etc etc) it’s not a pleasant reflection on the English that a huge capital city like London cannot sustain two full-time opera houses.

    What particularly disappoints and annoys me is that it all goes to reinforce the mistaken perception that opera is all about black tie and luncheon on the lawn, and is for those of a certain breeding (or at least, those with large wallets) and not for ordinary people. Very wrong.

    • Anne63 says:

      “it all goes to reinforce the mistaken perception that opera is all about black tie and luncheon on the lawn”

      Unfortunately, this old perception is kept alive by lazily conceived scenes in movies and on TV. I strongly suspect that just one grey hair/tiara/black tie scene in a popular movie will undermine years of work by those trying to promote a more realistic image. And don’t get me started about the number of times I’ve heard a “try to stay awake” comment about a classical concert. American TV seems to be particularly culpable here – just an impression.

      • Eddie Mars says:

        [[ this old perception is kept alive by lazily conceived scenes in movies ]]

        And, errr, by Richard Morrison. Who would actually like it kept that way.

        Let us hope the campaign to save ENO manages to see-off enemies of opera like Morrison.

        • Pooroperaman says:

          On the contrary, Morrison is one of the most perceptive and supportive writers on opera. He’s just had enough, like a lot of us, and is trying to be practical – something that was beyond John Berry.

          • Eddie Mars says:

            I have personally seen Morrison shamelessly ligging on the lawns at Glyndebourne. His role as Lord High Everything Else, and assistant to the Lord High Executioner in this Gilbertian tragi-comedy does him no credit whatsoever. May his balls be ever elliptical! At billiards, I should add.

          • Pooroperaman says:

            Reply to Eddie Mars (since the page won’t let me do it properly):

            And I’ve seen him having a drink in the interval at ENO. So what? He’s the only one making practical suggestions, rather than advocating the pouring of more millions into the John Berry bottomless money pit. Let me know if you have any better ideas.

        • Anne63 says:

          Maybe, but my comment was aimed primarily at people who have not set foot in an opera house (or concert hall) and would probably not think of reading Richard Morrison in the first place.

          Casual comments and scenes in movies are the sole source of information for some people. Many in my part of the world wouldn’t be seen dead at Leeds Grand, let alone the RoH. Ask them why and the usual stale old c**p is trotted out. Not their fault though.

          • Eddie Mars says:

            To be fair, Anne, many regular opera-goers have similarly fact-free prejudices about ballet – “never been, never want to, load of nancy-boys, rubbishy music”, and similar twaddle.

            And if you can’t get venue-attenders back to the same theatre for a show merely because there’s no singing… then there is really very little hope.

          • Anne63 says:

            “To be fair, Anne, many regular opera-goers have similarly fact-free prejudices about ballet – “never been, never want to, load of nancy-boys, rubbishy music”, and similar twaddle.”

            Good point.

  • Jonnyv says:

    Where to start?!?!
    So another bit of ‘high culture’ gets ready to receive a body blow that may well finish it , if not completely ,then set it into its path towards its death throes …
    The arguments about elitism etc are long gone and a horse that’s bolted.Whether it is or isn’t , I see few govts in the next 10 years left or right who are going to put the kind of money required to put large scale opera on in a huge place like the coliseum .
    The question that is more important to me is can the art professionals assemble to salvage an artistic future for the high arts for the medium to long term so that people will hear Mozart, Puccini and Rossini in twenty years time in Gt Britain anywhere apart from the ROH?!?

    • Ellingtonia says:

      Whats with the “high culture” twaddle………….its no more high culture than Elbow, Nick Cave, The Unthanks, Kit Downs and many more who contribute to the varied music scene but have to do so on the basis no one bails them out if they don’t bring in the punters.
      Its time to stop pouring money into the bottomless pit that is the metropolitan opera houses, either they provide a “product” that the public want or they go the way of the steelworkers because of labour market shift.

      • Allen says:

        Yes, sure. By some amazing coincidence, all art just happens to have developed to a stage where it is of equal merit.

        And my brand new local Tesco is no more worthy than Chartres Cathedral. To suggest otherwise would be elitist.

        Glad the shoulder chip industry is thriving, even if the steel industry isn’t.

        • Allen says:

          “And my brand new local Tesco is no more worthy than Chartres Cathedral.”

          Other way round, but you get the drift.

          • Ellingtonia says:

            So what makes you think the artists I have listed are “not of equal merit”……….try listening to them and you will encounter creative forces in the different genres of music. One is not better than the other, just different……..but of equal value (certainly to those of us with open minds).
            I just do not get this snotty nosed approach to other forms of music obviously played by lesser mortals and talents.

  • Tony Jones says:

    The chorus and orchestra need cutting. For many months each year these groups are left in full time employment while not working due to the ridiculous arrangements with English National Ballet and other visiting groups. If ENB and other guest groups want to bring their own chorus and orchestra in, surely the ENO chorus and orchestra should not be paid to do nothing. Why not make both ensembles paid per call like the majority of other London ensembles. To continue to pay musicians to do nothing is disgraceful and to fight for this to continue is self serving at best.

  • James Oliver says:

    Tony your assertion is incorrect. With the exception of holidays, (Shorter than school holidays) the chorus are in rep calls learning the repertoire for the next section of the season. Usually ten calls a week.
    The Orchestra are already playing for a lot of those visiting companies. A chorus cannot sing for a Ballet in which there is no music written for them.
    Why not make footballers paid per call?..

  • Tony Jones says:

    The orchestra are on full pay for 4 months every season while not working. Thy do not work for most of December, June, July or August. Also, they do not play for ENB or any of the visiting Russian bands. A 33% cut in their salaries would reflect their work. Or perhaps a decent management could actually make them work! The ratio of hours worked to salary is ridiculous, especially when compared to other London based ensembles. From memory the ROH orchestra have to do 968 hours each season for their salart, does anyone have figures for ENO requirements? As both bands rely heavily on public subsidy I believe comparison is worth investigating.

  • Opera supporter says:

    Tony, please consider how many days’ holiday an average Monday – Fri office worker is entitled to. Perhaps around 24 when starting with incremental increases over time.
    After a number of years, said worker might have 27+ days to take. A year. Working days, that is; or over five weeks…
    Now, if your job requires you to be present Monday to Saturday (plus a number of Sundays) and you cannot take ad hoc days off, then a week at Christmas and Easter (at Company’s discretion as they expect you to rehearse when the ballet are in) leaves only a longer summer break than most might enjoy.
    If the choristers get a total of, say 5 or 6 weeks off, mostly from early July early August, this is nothing other than the choristers having to take their rightful holiday allowance when they can.
    OK, six weeks could be seen as the same as that office worker’s 30 day’s allocation. Generous, maybe, BUT does said office worker get home after work often after midnight only to rise to travel and be ready to work again from as early as 9.30 am on regular occasions?
    We all make our choices, yes, but sometimes the public only ‘see’ the end result and never the exhausting hours put in beforehand.
    Notwithstanding the years of continual training that’s not just to be found ‘on the job’.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      My goodness the miners, steelworkers and those in heavy engineering plants must have thanked their lucky stars that they did not have to cope with the stresses and strains of a chorus singer, not to mention the unsocial hours……………but didn’t those in industry often with a three shift system I hear you ask?

      • Ellingtonia says:

        Last sentence should read “but didn’t those in industry often work a three shift system I hear you ask?”

  • Lulu says:

    Tony,I don’t know where you get your information from but it’s a load of rubbish.
    The orchestra work for half of December,the whole of June and start rehearsing for the new season in mid August.

  • Andie G says:

    We apparently earn a little bit less than the guys at our local station platform, in our orchestra section at ENO (heard them grumbling about their salary recently!) But I chose this. We do get all our holiday together, yes, there’s no choice about when, but our contract is actually 1,000 hours, which we would absolutely (& gratefully) work if management so decreed. We definitely do NOT have 4months off. We are playing for two ballet runs at the Coli this Summer, just did Carlos Acosta at Christmas (& others ballets before)-as well as the 43 plus performances of the musical Sunset Boulevard & our opera season (& for example a concert, a workshop & a conductors’ competition last week) & are on a ‘letter of consent’ overriding our contract to allow management to take on work at short notice should it be found, here or abroad.(And we very much chose to do this).
    I live in a small house just outside London & we travel to venues all around the tube network to rehearse-it’s £22 peak rtn (more for some), plus Oyster fares -as there’s no rehearsal space at the Coli unless the pit/stage area is (unusually) free to use, since the ‘ENO Works’ rehearsal venue was sold off in the early 2000s. On split days (often 2-3 a week for a rehearsal & show) we travel up & back twice a day, also costly. And chosen. There are a lot of Saturdays & some Sundays, yes. My salary has reduced a lot since joining in the 2000s, not just in terms of value but actual numbers. I don’t know what the office-workers earn, there are a lot, yes, but I assume their jobs are as essential to the organisation as the musical side (& shit happens, as they say, but you have to trust the management know what they’re doing. Also, I chose it, willingly.)
    There isn’t any obvious salary/ career progression path in any orchestra, unless, say, a principal player leaves, in which case hundreds of people apply. We are all aware of this, but still chose it. We loved it so much that we were driven to take our chances, I suppose. Most short-notice (extra) calls & overtime have disappeared with our new contract of 2004, in which section sizes were reduced to rightly ‘tighten up’ the operation & most ‘extra’ bits were bought-out (tv, radio, most recording, cinema, different venues). Times change,& everyone understands this. All this is now within our basic pay, which stayed the same. After 4 years at college (& all the practice before that concurrent with school work) I’ve worked constantly-for a number of years in a regional company, in an orchestral job abroad, & I’ve made a living busking with quartets at Covent Garden Piazza, freelancing & also doing chamber music at weddings.
    I can see why people think it’s an easy living though; we ‘play’ or sing for our money. Programmes like X-factor do make it look like you can ‘just do it’ on the spot. (Someone once said to me “surely you don’t have to practise, now you KNOW all the notes?”) Maybe it’s not obvious to most unless they have the chance to be exposed to it, which we do provide in spades at ENO, & reasonably- but there is a huge difference, when a large Company of those talented individuals work together regularly, with practice & skill & their full dedication, all their past experience, & wonderful musical leadership, bodies & minds that ache with focus (& literal pain) day in day out. We all chose this! And it’s wonderful. Maybe it’s just a ‘niche’ taste. Maybe the composers & operas of that vast era -‘Orfeo’ right up to today (Philip Glass, Asian Dub, Damon Albarn) should only be read about, or heard & seen in recordings, especially if you don’t have much money. Just a museum-piece.
    If you choose a ‘career’ providing this service you can’t ever go home or have your holiday & totally forget about playing/singing & practice. It’s always there, nagging at the edges of our consciousness. We practise at home in our own time, unlike in a lot of jobs, otherwise it would be obvious, we couldn’t do what’s required & we’d be out! I was an ‘A’ student, as were most of my colleagues. (Is it too late to learn something ‘of value’ to our Society?- having realised the diminishing value of these arts in our Society- Law, Banking, or to Code maybe? Something we all, & governments, agree we all need & value?) But to reskill costs, time & money. I have small children. My attention at work to fine detail, analysis, listening, interpretation & teamwork is currently all being spent in the direction of creating something which we hope will engage our audiences overwhelmingly; their emotions, mind, body & soul. The whole experience. That it will give them something back when they are dog-tired after a hard day’s work, or when visiting London from abroad or elsewhere in the country. And that is why we chose it. We make no apology for that, nor do we want sympathy for our choice, far from it.
    We are currently doing our best work & winning awards. We chose this, & every single one of us thought it was an important skill to hone. It can hurt but we still love it. Most of us learned piano to grade 8 and beyond, as well as our instrument or voice in school (free at the time for many of us), music colleges, as well as theory, history, harmony & another instrument, to gain a broad knowledge. I suppose we had faith that it would pay off, we definitely didn’t choose it for financial reward, but thought we could be part of something bigger & make something together worth having, & giving, in a Company. And that people (& governments) might see that, & value our joint effort, be proud of the award-winning work we are producing, & visitors to our Capital City could have a choice of more than one company, more than one price bracket. (Berlin has 4 opera houses I believe). They could hear & see something completely out of the ordinary, in their jeans or whatever they chose to be comfortable, in amazing surroundings, for not too much money.
    Maybe it’ll go by the by with globalisation… art has always been contentious, & always required patronage. We didn’t ourselves expect to be well-off, just hopefully to have enough to make a living. Times are tough for everyone. We chose the evening-plus-daytime work life; bed at 1.30am (after getting home, paying the babysitter etc etc,& ironing-out the aches & pains!); up at 6.30/7 for the school run and then a rehearsal. Our choice. Instruments (& painful bodies) are expensive /time-consuming to upkeep-and like everyone else we find living, childcare, travel, financially punishing at the moment.
    Many, many highly-skilled incredible musicians come to work in our Company, having toured the world for years in the big London symphony orchestras.They are more available to their families & are there slightly more regularly to see their children. This doesn’t mean they are lesser musicians. We have alot to give, together, & we can be put to use & service to provide this to our audiences, our life-blood. Leadership is crucial, and not all repertoire or financial choices have been wise in recent (& less recent) years, but as musicians we were always aware of this, but powerless to change it.
    Our teams of technical staff, music staff and chorus are all currently under major threat- those threats have come out one-by-one since before Christmas, and we have only heard whispers about the 2 former groups, nothing transparent or official. I believe we are being broken up, piecemeal, from within, by financiers who do not value opera as an art form. The Arts Council stands to gain the prize of the London Coliseum once the Company no longer exists in its current form. (They have this stipulation written in the terms of the freehold, apparently, which ENO currently owns, due to David Mellor’s intervention way back when). The incentive if so, is blatant. Money can be made. Quality & something else intangible will be sacrificed. And we will all lose.