ENO’s new mantra: Not pricey, not posh

Chief exec Cressida Pollock has marked her first year in the job with an article on ENO’s unique selling points:

Many of the people who make up our audience today are not “opera buffs”, and nor should they be. Our audience members have so many choices in what to do with an evening – to watch a series on Netflix, to meet friends for dinner, to go to a late night at a museum, or to one of the hundreds of live performances on each night in this city. We should not take their time, or money, for granted. It is our task to persuade them of three things – that opera is the most exciting art form of all, that seeing it live is an incomparable experience and that ENO is where they should see it. 

And we need to persuade them of this in the midst of a cacophony of competing information. Opera is not expensive. Opera is not posh. Opera can speak to people in a way no other art form can. Challenging these prejudices is what makes our future at ENO so exciting. We have the opportunity to have an open conversation about how we can persuade audiences of the necessity of experiencing opera – its excitement, its relevance and its affordability. 

Read on here.

cressida pollock


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  • ‘Many of the people who make up our audience today are not “opera buffs”, and nor should they be.’

    Why shouldn’t they be? Do you really want to serve the ignorant rather than the knowledgeable, Ms Pollock, the fairweather friends rather than the loyal supporters?

    This is yet another attack on an arts organisation’s core audience, in order to pursue a new audience that has no loyalty or commitment to the art form, and will disappear the moment it gets the slightest bit bored.

    • Be realistic. There are at best perhaps a couple of thousand really obsessive opera fans – the ones who book for everything, travel to see new productions, will go to the same production several times in the same run if the cast changes, and obsess on social media over directors and revivals – in the UK.

      Meanwhile, to keep the books balanced – and yes, to subsidise the expert tastes of the tiny minority of “opera buffs” – Ms Pollock has to sell 2000+ seats several times a week throughout the season. Research in the music organisation where I worked showed that as much as 75% of the audience attended no more than one or two live concerts per year. Like it or not, THAT is the UK arts audience: not a clique of trainspotters who seem to feel that everyone else who’s bought a ticket is there on sufferance. In any case, opera should be for a mass audience: Wagner, Verdi, Puccini and Mozart wrote for a large, non-expert public and wanted it to reach one (more often than not, it was the “opera buffs” of their day who booed them).

      Ms Pollock’s comments are shrewd, realistic and honest. She’s managing an opera company in the real world in 2016, not at the court of Ludwig II. Tickets have to be sold, bills have to be paid, and – shudder – the great unwashed may even have to be permitted to enjoy our precious private artform. Funnily enough, it’s survived worse. Do give my regards to his majesty, though…

  • “Our audience members have so many choices in what to do with an evening – to watch a series on Netflix, to meet friends for dinner, to go to a late night at a museum, or to one of the hundreds of live performances on each night in this city. We should not take their time, or money, for granted.”

    Where or earth has Ms. Pollock been for the last couple of decades as the options for leisure time have mushroomed exponentially? (Oh, at an upper class school for at least the first one it seems!) So her potential audiences go to a night at the Museum? Or attend another performance elsewhere in the city? Oh. so upper middle class! What? None going to the cinema, a pub or a club with friends?

    She sees her job as “to persuade them (about opera) in the midst of a cacophony of competing information.” So patently obvious! Uttered so frequently by opera managers around the world for decades. Absolutely nothing new. And the bit where she talks about being 65 and the selfish thrill of being able to attend the ENO is utterly cringing.

    • What’s so “upper middle class” about going to a museum or a live show?

      There’s no snob like an inverted snob…

      • OK, I set myself up for that rather silly rebuff! Point taken. But if you had read my post carefully you would have perhaps released my point is that through the examples she chooses to give she embraces a pretty small section of the whole population. Opera is for all, as Michael Volpe’s excellent vdo recently posted here made perfectly clear when he took his Chelsea football club mates to Traviata.

  • She has some good points. Going to the ENO is quite a nice experience and is good value for money. The last time I went to a rock concert at the Brixton Academy I was greeted by a bouncer built like a gorilla, was shoved up against the wall and frisked for weapons, nice place. Going to the cinema is even more soul destroying, large impersional multiplexes with disinterested staff and it is real pain to buy a ticket. The ENO has nice staff, nice bars and you are treated rather well.

  • She makes a good point but runs the risk of doing a Scottish Opera which alienated its core audience by classing them as opera buffs. The result is a very diminished loyal audience and an increase in one off attendees.
    This is such a complex area that it is essential to keep the two strands going. The core regulars who love the company and then build new audiences around that,some of whom may return and some may not.

    • She’s wading needlessly into muddy waters.

      Bakers don’t put signs outside their shops reading “our bread is exclusively for experts who have first-hand experience of French, Italian and German breadwares. No others will be admitted. Random tests may be conducted.”

      ENO’s job is to put an excellent product on its stage (and possibly on some other stages too). The excellence of the product will automatically draw in the right audience.

      She fails the Leadership challenge at every stage :(( She simply hasn’t got what it takes to lead a national arts company. It’s that “muddle on through, girls!” attitude which should have perished in the era of the St Trinians films.

      Where is the Artistic Director????

        • Gone it seems. I assume Ms Pollock knew when she wrote this.

          Maybe time to pull down the curtain at least temporarily and go back to the drawing board. How can any organisation continually stagger from crisis to crisis without destroying all it’s creative potential? But perhaps that’s the outcome ACE is intent on.

          • It sends out a grim signal when the MD has to walk out, rather than leave by quiet consent. And it leaves the company utterly rudderless, and now seemingly captained by the Purser.

            Perhaps I have missed Wigglesworth’s finest performances – but he has never set things alight for me. I fell asleep in his Parsifal (although the production was somnolence personified). There are plenty more in the sea, in the sea, in the sea.

            If Cressida Bollocks were made of the right stuff, she would be calling in star guest-conducting talent to turn this disaster into a crisis. Sadly, her reaction will probably be to form a focus-group, recruit some consultants, issue a Working Paper, and convene some committees.

  • For anagram fans, here are a couple of alter egos for Ms. Pollock:
    “pickled cool ass”, or:
    “crackled psi solo”

  • I thought Wigglesworth’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was very fine; I’d travelled from South Wales to see it and was happy to have made the journey. Likewise The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny though that, of course, was at the house a few streets away. His recordings of the Shostakovich symphonies are among the best IMHO and there was a very good Mahler 10 which appeared on the cover of the BBC Music Magazine some years ago. It’s not much to go on I would agree but I go along with those who see him as a potentially major musical figure. The trouble is that he rarely seems to stay anywhere; he left the BBCNOW prematurely, then La Monnaie and now ENO. The place would have been stronger for his staying and roughing it out. Instead of which it will, as you say, probably be the focus groups and the consultants and all the other know-nothing hangers-on who profit from these crises. No-one else does, that’s for sure.

  • I agree with Halldor: “Ms Pollock’s comments are shrewd, realistic and honest. She’s managing an opera company in the real world in 2016… Tickets have to be sold, bills have to be paid”. In that real world in 2016, the waters certainly are muddy, to quote Eddie Mars, but wading into them is the only option and Ms Pollock is demonstrating a strong commitment to the wading, the water, and the mud (not least that thrown from the banks by posters of snide anagrams, and let’s say nothing about the wolf-whistlers). So are the the ENO chorus, who have taken strong self-representative action to arrive at a new agreement. Mr Wigglesworth isn’t.

    I’m not sure that opera is for all because I’m not sure that anything is, but clearly the trouble is that all don’t go to the opera, and “excellence of the product” does not “automatically draw in the right audience”. If it did, Mr Volpe would not have felt the need to create his cool video.

    Opera is expensive. “Calling in star guest-conducting talent” will also be expensive, and will help to sell individual nights and show runs, but it will not resolve the fundamental bottom-line business issue (exacerbated by next year’s £5,000,000 funding gap, equivalent to five times the annual turnover of the arts organisation for which I work) any more than persuading three football fans to attend a single show (or even to become season ticket holders).

    I cannot see how Ms Pollock is “failing the leadership challenge”, how she isn’t “made of the right stuff”, or how anything that she is presently doing could be classed as “muddling on”. Certainly, a detailed business plan has yet to emerge, but an AD and MD have to be in place for that to happen, and Ms Pollock (and the whole ENO management team) are awaiting those appointments before moving forward.

    • [[ I cannot see how Ms Pollock is “failing the leadership challenge”, how she isn’t “made of the right stuff ]]

      Can’t you?

      # ENO left in “special measures” with the Arts Council, and no announced plan as to how she intends to get out of this. And clearly no clue about what to do.

      # No business plan

      # Idiotic public dispute with the chorus that should never have been allowed to blow up into a conflict. No management skills whatsosever.

      # Ongoing failure to appoint an Artistic Director to lead the company’s work. This has now reached the level of criminal negligence. Failure to make a public statement about why no appointment has been made.

      # Hanging the Music Director “out to dry”, and failure to include him or his suggestions within the plans for the company’s future development.

      # A confrontational attitude to the company’s performers and staff.

      # A conspicuous lack of advocacy and leadership for the company’s work. Akhnaten and Magic Flute have been sell-out triumphs – but the Head Girl has failed to say a thing about them. I wonder if she even went to the performances?

      In short – Cressida Bollocks is an incompetent, negligent dilettante, who should *never* have been appointed to the CEO position.

      SHE MUST GO.

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