New chart: All you need to know about ENO

New chart: All you need to know about ENO


norman lebrecht

February 22, 2016

The theatre monitoring site has correlated the vital statistics of English National Opera over the past decade in an attempts to find the roots of its crisis.

ENO box office

What the main chart shows is that 2010 and 2011, the years of greatest artistic adventure, were when the company topped 80 percent at the box-office. Seeing more people coming in through the doors, the board  increased ticket prices by an average 14 percent. So people stopped coming.

Not rocket science, is it?

Oh, and the man who helped push through the price rises was vice-chair Peter Bazalgette, now chair of the Arts Council which is trying to shut ENO down.

See full report and charts here.

ENO box office


  • Nicola Lefanu says:

    What was going on in 2012 with only 115 performances ?

    That’s the best part of a fifth less than they were doing six years earlier (141 perf)

    • Nick says:

      I totally agree. I recall reading on another music-related blog recently that Scottish Opera in its heyday of the mid-1970s was presenting more than 115 performances annually with full orchestra and chorus at a time when the company was not just in its Glasgow headquarters but touring for a good few months of the year. Something happened at Scottish Opera in the following decades to send it into a financial spiral resulting in the abolition of its chorus and orchestra. ENO ‘s downward spiral is not recent and it does not even tour.

      Hard to compare the mid-1970s with the early 2010s, I agree. But performing for what is less than a third of of a year seems a major waste of resources, notwithstanding box office does not meet the average cost of performances.

      On the issue of box office, I do find it hard to believe that a relatively modest increase in price should result in more than a modest fall off in attendance. I do not know the pricing structure of the ENO but as in all artistic endeavours there are those in any potential audience who will be event-oriented and others much more price-oriented. I cannot believe in these days of algorithms maximising revenues from the sale of other perishable items like, for example, airline seats and hotel rooms, it is not beyond the wit of opera companies to introduce somewhat similar systems to generate higher yields. The commercial theatre does this to a certain extent. Why not the subsidised companies?

      Going back to the 1950s in the smaller Sadlers Wells Theatre, the old company once got itself out of financial trouble with a long string of performances of The Merry Widow conducted by its Music Director, Alexander Gibson. I realise the ENO leases the theatre to a commercial outfit to present musicals with popular stars for a month or so each year. Would it be so against the policy of the ENO to mount its own longish season using its own chorus and orchestra of unashamedly popular operetta to ensure a solid block of sold-out houses? This would surely be on a par with popular productions from the National Theatre moving to the West End for a run of strictly commercial performances.

      • Halldor says:

        “Would it be so against the policy of the ENO to mount its own longish season using its own chorus and orchestra of unashamedly popular operetta to ensure a solid block of sold-out houses?”

        See: Pirates of Penzance and the endless revivals of the ancient Jonathan Miller Mikado. Sensible policy. But imagine the snobbish squeals of highbrow protest if they started doing long runs of (eg) The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls etc, even though these are all best-selling staples of “volksoper” type houses on the continent. Sunset Boulevard is a pragmatic, low-risk attempt to do something similar, and look at the grief they’re getting over that.

        • Nick says:

          I appreciate the point about The Mikado and Pirates of Penzance. In my view Gilbert and Sullivan appeals only to a certain section of the population – and specifically in the English=speaking world. Where have been runs of Merry Widow, Fledermaus, Vie Parisienne, even Orpheus in the Underworld? Would these not have major appeal not only to Londoners but to a wide swathe of the city’s visitors from both the UK and overseas?

          And what is wrong with seasons of good productions of popular musicals? These have helped keep the Chicago Lyric Opera in the black (or less in the red) in the last couple of years. Many German houses venture into the musicals genre. And didn’t Richard Eyre’s superb Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre generate excellent critical reviews and a year of additional commercial performances in the West End?

          If the ENO is to survive as we know it, either the chorus and orchestra will be reduced or it has to come up with more credible ways of generating considerable additional revenues without affecting is basic mission.

          • Halldor says:

            Nothing wrong with those ideas, except that with the exceptions of G&S, Die Fledermaus, Merry Widow and maybe – just – Orpheus, I can’t quite believe that traditional operetta has had any drawing power in the UK for well over a generation. A fresh, funny and well-staged G&S show a season could be a ‘banker’, however, as those two shows prove. And yes: classic musicals. Absolutely. What, apart from critical snobbery, prevents those from being added to the repertoire?

      • Eddie Mars says:

        Many moons ago they had the idea of doing that themselves. The plan was to open the season with a three-week run of Porgy & Bess (bringing the Glydebourne production into the West End, under Licence). I think it was Peter Jonas’s idea? However, something broke down in their negotiations with the Gershwin Estate, and they were denied permission for it. (I believe that the all-black casting requirements were satisfied, so it was presumably about money?).

        Of course, P&B *is* an opera, so that shouldn’t be an issue. There’s no reason why this couldn’t be tried again, in theory?

        Worth noting, though, that attempts by a well-known impresario to set up West End runs of ‘certain hit’ opera shows bombed, and the whole thing closed down very sharply.

        As Norman has pointed out, what has always sold best at the Coli has been unusual repertoire which the public aren’t yet sick of. Not a spare seat to be had for Akhnaten, Nixon in China and their like. It’s only twits at the Arse Council who think that wall-to-wall Figaros and Carmens are the only way to fill seats.

        • pooroperaman says:

          ‘It’s only twits at the Arse Council who think that wall-to-wall Figaros and Carmens are the only way to fill seats.’

          It works for Covent Garden. Why shouldn’t it work for ENO?

  • Robert says:

    It isn’t just about the ticket price.

    Note that the price increase of 2008 resulted in more tickets and more capacity being sold.

    It’s really about the economy, not “artistic adventure”. In a good economy you can raise prices and people will pay. In a bad economy they will choose not to even if you lower the price.