Opera is teamwork. The Arts Council don’t get that.

Opera is teamwork. The Arts Council don’t get that.


norman lebrecht

February 11, 2016

ENO Music director Mark Wigglesworth has written a powerful piece in the Guardian today, explaining that innovation and collaboration are the twin keys to high performance in opera, something outsiders simply don’t get.

He also shares some thoughts on the next artistic director (who will be his boss).

As the search for a new artistic leader intensifies, ENO has to choose someone who can radically reimagine the possibilities of how the company can bring back its old audience, keep its existing one, and reach out to a new one. But this person needs to know the difference between cost and value, and must appreciate that without the priceless qualities of the company’s regular forces, no amount of audience development can succeed. Everyone appreciates quality. Everyone deserves it. To propose anything less would betray the art form, the audience and the taxpayer.




No less trenchant, the bass-baritone Iain Paterson demonstrates that cutting the ENO chorus will undermine the foundation of the singing profession. Like many future international soloists, Iain learned his trade in the chorus.

Iain writes on his site:

In 2000, when I made my debut with ENO, the company was engaged on upwards of 20 productions a year. Now, they’re struggling to maintain ten.

The size and scope of the company has been steadily diminishing over the last fifteen years. Mismanagement or poor governance, it doesn’t really matter why, or who is to blame.

What matters is that it stops now. What matters is that that ENO survives. It’s time for a line to be drawn in the sand.

To our politicians I say this – please realise once and for all that art is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Fund it properly. And if you don’t want to, grant tax breaks to those individuals who do.

To the Arts Council I say this – do your job properly, and protect institutions like ENO, while we still have them. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and you will be seen as the one standing over them holding the bloody knife.

To those who would continue swinging the corporate axe in the direction of performers I say this – it’s the thin end of the wedge. If you doubt that, just take a look north of the border for a glimpse of what the future holds for you. An opera company is made up of performers, musicians, and technicians, not bricks and mortar. It is they who win you those awards of which you’re all so fond. It is they who maintain those high artistic standards of which you’re all so proud.

Cherish them. Don’t punish them.

Lest we forget: Arts Council England is presently chaired by a former ENO chairman under whose watch the company fell into crisis, and the former chief executive of Classic FM, who has no experience in live performing arts.