This weekend: ENO’s leaders face their critics


An invitation from Cressida Pollock: Chief Executive ENO


Dear Opera lover,

I am pleased to invite you to “Devoted and Disgruntled: How can we change Opera for the better?”

Is Opera a big part of your life? Does it play any part in your life (and if not, why not)? Do you love it? Hate it? Are you indifferent to it or even not sure why it’s relevant at all? Do you think it has a future? Is it elitist? Is it too expensive? Should it receive public subsidy?  Does what is happening to it make you furious or don’t you care? If so, then perhaps you know what it’s like to be devoted and disgruntled.

This is a hugely challenging time for the arts and no art-form more than Opera has the ability to provoke such passion and controversy. When the stakes are so high and many of us in big and small companies are fighting to keep our heads above water, this is an opportunity for your voice to be heard. Would you like to change things? How can we all work together to make sure that Opera survives and prospers way into the future? Would you like to connect with others who share your passion, talk to them, listen to them, change how Opera is for the better, or help secure its future?

Come together with a large cross-section of our operatic community; movers, makers, shakers, consumers, activists, reactionaries, revolutionaries, workers on the factory floor, creators on the edge, at the core, critics, newcomers, old hands, audiences and supporters across the board.

Air your ideas, share your frustrations, listen, and contribute to a myriad of discussions created and determined by you the operatic community.

Devoted and Disgruntled uses Open Space Technology to allow the group itself to determine the topics and flow of the discussion, and to take action on the urgent issues. Nothing is censored, and all participants are free to call sessions, attend whichever are of interest, or meet informally over a coffee. It will be facilitated and archived by Improbable who now have an 11 year history of running great events like this; conferences which have helped change the way the arts community communicates with itself.

I look forward to seeing you there to help shape the future of Opera.

Best wishes
cressida pollock
Cressida Pollock: Chief Executive ENO

Details here.

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • I strongly urge anyone who is interested in the future of Opera in the UK to be there if they can Be. There are many questions which need to be addressed at this undeniably important time…

  • From: Cressida Bollocks
    To: Conceptual Control Dept, Central Paradigms, Strategic Guff Management,
    CC: The Fiends of English National Opera
    BCC: ENO Spamlist

    Dear (X3FieldNameError)

    I write to you personally as part of the ENO strategic ongoing paradigm excellence achievement consultative process management focus group feedback development evolving policy creation buzzword continuous monitoring initiative.

    I invite you to come together with other subscribers, punters, spamlist participants, inbought de-duped mailing-list names, Friends of the Royal Opera House, former purchasers, lapsed members, movers, makers, shakers, consumers, activists, reactionaries, revolutionaries, workers on the factory floor, and other lists we maintain.

    I know nothing whatsoever about opera, and I was rather hoping you could tell me what it is? I’d be ever so grateful, honestly!

    We here at McKinsey want to make your opera-purchasing interactive viewing auditory appreciatory bums-on-seats drink-quaffing sandwich-scoffing activities into an entirely new paradigm. Please tick 1 (one) of the paradigms listed below that most appeals to you after extensive research by a team of unpaid interns in a marketing college in Slough. Do not attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once.

    If any of you have seen our Artistic Director recently, would you please alert a member of our staff, adding (where possible) the GPS coordinates, and Star Date of when you saw the AD, along with any distinguishing characteristics which might help us to identify them. Please do not approach the Artistic Director – leave this to the professionals.

    By agreeing to take part in the initiative strategy simulacrum of genuine concern or interest paradigm survey, you agree that we may spam you and your heirs with special offers until the Day Of The Last Judgement.

    We are unable to reply to all of your ideas, input, suggestions, demands and proposals individually – but please rest assured that requesting creates the illusion of engagement with our paying punters that a modern arse organisation is expected to maintain. All correspondence will be disposed of responsibly. Please only take a plastic carrier bag if you really need one. Please don’t bother replying if you live in Leeds, Bradford, Manchester or Liverpool, because nothing we do is intended for you lot.

    To unsubscribe from this mailing please

    • +1!

      I was ready to welcome this initiative till its third line, where she asked someone addressed as “Dear Opera Lover” whether they hated opera. Do these people even listen to themselves? It bodes no more likelihood than you project of them listening to anyone else.

      What is “Open Space technology”? Does that mean going where you like from a selection of rooms, corners, sofas, etc.?

      Not my usual vocabulary, but “Meh” seems the only response to the drivel above.

    • Amusingly paraphrased but most likely there is an awful lot of truth here EM.
      It sounds like an act of desperation driven by a director who simply isn’t up to the job, a phoney focus group eliciting ideas which they usually chuck in the bin, or just ignore (like the Radio Times survey which Whittingdale claimed he’d read and then fessed up after he’d been shown to have not unlocked the usb stick).
      ‘Open space technology’? Eh?
      Whilst part of me says we ought to contribute the other says it won’t be taken seriously and there’s far too much in the consultation anyway.
      Would be interesting to be a fly on the wall but I can’t take this opportunity seriously, it smacks of incompetence and strikes me as being incredibly lazy thinking.

      • Whoever has the catering contract to provide organic chili tofu-burgers for the event will clean up.

        A strident agenda demanding the government funds more provision in opera (not forgetting the obligatory provision for disadvantaged groups, minority groups, etc) will be signed. A committee will be formed. An insulting letter will be sent to the Arts Minister. The ENO Outreach Program will go and sing the Brindisi from La Traviata in a hospice in Penge. A working group to create a devised non-composed non-hierarchical Community Opera that expresses the anger of The Oppressed will be set up (no such opera will actually result, of course). Government funding for the Arts will be cut by one-third.

        Same time next year, everyone? 😉

    • So easy to respond from the comfort of your armchair but I note the total absence of any constructive suggestions.
      ENO is facing an identity crisis,not though the Komische Oper in Berlin and at least the new director is talking about the future and doing so in a way that is quite brave. The reason that it is brave is she will probably get the kind of response listed above.
      Context helps strengthen a case. I know not if you are a regular opera goer,I know note if you are regular ENO goer. That information would help.
      Can we actually get som constructive discussion going and in particular some discussion that references Opera in a worldwide or least Europe setting? I actually I would settle for something that acknowledged the problems and opportunities faced by opera companies outwit London.

  • If I lived in the UK I would definitely turn up to this. Unfortunately, I have professional commitments in Munich that prevent me from flying to London and showing my face and airing my thoughts & beliefs.
    HOWEVER, like my colleague John Daszak above, I STRONGLY URGE anybody who has time and who has an interest (including a self-interest) in Opera in the UK and, especially at the moment, Opera and everything that goes with it at the English National Opera & London Coliseum and the current climate of unrest at the company, to PLEASE GO AND AIR YOUR THOUGHTS, MISGIVINGS, IDEAS, and say what you honestly & truthfully think should be said!!!
    Yes, the invitation sounds like crap! But believe me, it is going to be a very important and heated discussion event.

  • The last time money was exchanged for my two penn’th, it cost the other party, well, 2 [new] pence…

    I jest, but seriously, I see [middle tab above the ‘invite’] that it will cost me £25 (or £12.50 concession) to attend the seminar!

    While others’ comments on desired attendance are duly noted, in all honesty I would rather spend this on a ticket at ENO than tell Ms Pollock what the entire industry has been telling her for months now.

    I would also want to know who else from ENO’s Board will be attending / hosting; or will it just be Ms Pollock? (Would that the entire Board could be [made to be] present as no doubt some of its members have not always been kept in the fullest of pictures all the while….)

    Lastly, and as I cannot see that Slipped Disc has made any separate mention of this, can I take this opportunity to congratulate the Chorus and Orchestra of ENO on their very well-deserved Olivier Award.

    Let’s hope it is placed somewhere very proud for ALL of the opera–going and opera–paying public to see rather than have it gather dust in a corner of a Boardroom somewhere…

  • This isn’t meant to aggravate, but this is something that needs saying, no matter how much we love ENO.

    No one wants cuts, but unless one of you has a magic wand, they are sadly have to happen.

    I wonder how many other CEOs would make decisions that are perceived as unpopular and then agree to meet face to face with the public to discuss them? It’s a bold move to be applauded.

    Whatever your thoughts, remember this: Ms Pollock inherited a total mess. She didn’t create it but has to try to sort it and keep a company.

    And finally, food for thought. All this talk about people in charge not being from opera backgrounds – how many who judge are from management backgrounds with experience of running large organisations? I’m sure it’s harder than taking the time to be dismissive and, at times, personal and just rude.

    • She’s utterly failed to challenge the cuts.

      She has no plan whatsoever. She is useless, and has to go.

      • Like you, I don’t know Ms Pollock, so feel sweeping statements are far from helpful. Let us leave this here. The witch hunt on here isn’t helpful or constructive.

      • ‘Challenging’ the cuts would be pointless. They’re out of her control, and a response to conditions which are out of anyone’s control. She’s doing the only sensible thing, which is finding a practical response to those cuts.

    • In principle I would agree, but in practice I have not seen Ms Pollock fight publicly for ENO at all.
      I do not dispute that some ‘just 30-somethings’ are more than capable of very Senior Managerial roles, but as her appointment was not contested (if that’s the right word – there were no other applicants, I believe) and she has no prior experience of running at board level a large company (again, as I believe ), I cannot but worry that she had been handed by ACE / those who appointed her a darker task to carry out (re the Freehold of the Coli….).
      I really do want her to show us all that she is fighting for ENO, but to date her official utterances have been lacking in so many areas [opera the brand; dear opera lover…do you hate opera? etc].
      And the Olivier Awards would have been a perfect opportunity to stand up, receive an award and voice her fight for ENO. But she didn’t…
      If my company were in the state ‘hers’ (as CEO) is, I would be listening to ALL voices both within and without the organisation and fighting fighting fighting for it.
      Perhaps we’ll see that this weekend…

      • === the Olivier Awards would have been a perfect opportunity to stand up, receive an award and voice her fight for ENO

        Yes, very good point ! A missed opportunity.

        • And if she had, people would moan “Why didn’t they send a musician to pick it up? She didn’t perform”. It would be impossible to win

        • She can’t win, can she? If that had happened, people would be saying how outrageous it was that a musician hadn’t been sent to accept the award and that she hadn’t contributed to the award.

  • For those who are planning to dismiss this, because they think it’s something set up by ENO, it isn’t.

    Devoted and Disgruntled is the brainchild of Phelim McDermott. It’s a forum for arts people to talk about their frustrations, and discuss ways to improve the production, promotion and sale of the arts in the UK.

    Devoted and Disgruntled has met through the UK, and is an invaluable group.

    If you are in London, and can attend, it will be well worth your time.

    Here is more information:

  • A lot of ill informed comment here, maybe set up by a poorly framed posting.
    We did this a year ago at the ROH, it’s about the whole of opera in the UK, not just ENO. You can read many constructive and useful reports from 2015 here: .
    There is no fixed agenda, that is set by the people attending, not Norman Lebrecht or Cressida Pollock. It can be about whatever you want it to be about, just convene your own session to debate whatever really matters to you. If you care about opera and want to make any kind of contribution to its future, you should be there.

    • I’d be interested in knowing what real influence this had. Having spent an hour on this impenetrable and artspeak site I’m none the wiser.
      Apologies if that comes over as sceptical but edited feedback and constructive comments don’t convince me, maybe I’m wrong.

      • Well it takes time for things to mature, and why should it have an effect anyway? maybe the biggest benefit is a catharsis to the industry via the people there.
        There have been concrete results from D&D – for example the 2015 opera one led to our first Librettists Network, which you can find and engage with by searching for that title on Facebook.
        Maybe a more striking example created in the Theatre D&D is Stella Duffy’s Fun Palaces, wholly created in that forum and which engaged with 90,000 people last year.
        So you can get up and really get something done via D&D. Or of course, alternatively, just loaf about on computers and moan.

  • Here’s a lovely invitation from “the small fry”, which really exposes the bending of truth by the Slipped Disc posting above better than any comment from me could:

    “An Invitation From The Little Fish

    There are invitations here from Cressida Pollock, John Fulljames, Phelim McDermott, Bill Bankes-Jones – all industry leaders. So why should you care about this one? You’ve never heard of me. I’m a very little fish in a very big ocean of Opera. There are a lot of us small fry, swimming about. We make your costumes on next-to-no-money, we write hundreds of libretti for competitions we never win, we save up all our pennies for a seat in the upper gallery, we move the scenery, we clean up the empty ice-cream tubs after the show, we answer the phones, we hear what the audience really thought as they collect their coats, we read all the reviews, we practice our instruments for hours, we come to the auditions when we don’t stand a chance of getting cast, we serve the champagne to the funders, we blog and we slog and we turn the cogs. We value your work, we make your work, we turn up, over and over again because we think opera is worth the effort.

    Sometimes we strain to hear the words or can’t afford the tickets, sometimes we feel fobbed off, sometimes we feel out of our depth, sometimes we think we don’t belong here, sometimes we are overworked, underpaid, invisible. But we still turn up because we really care about this art form and these great companies that make great work.

    Here’s why you should care about this invitation. We have the alternative perspectives, we have the new ideas you need to know about, we have the big ambitions we can’t realise by ourselves. From where we are, in the corner, we can see what’s really going on and we might just have the answers. Or at least, we have the questions that might lead to the answers. There’s only one way to find out, and that is to come and have a proper conversation with me, and my small fry friends, and the big fish leaders this weekend at Lilian Baylis House. Together we can change opera for the better. I’ll be turning up. I hope you do too. – See more at:

    • [[ exposes the bending of truth ]]

      “Exposes”, Bill? “Bending”? My post was a reaction to a woman without the slightest professional experience in opera – who was foisted on ENO as an incompetent CEO after a career in an entirely unrelated industry. As a paid stooge of the Arts Council (who appointed her without considering other candidates), her sole function at ENO has been as an automaton doing their financial bidding, and working to shut down the company in a program of a thousand cuts.

      For this same discredited woman to call for ideas, when she clearly has not the slightest intent of implementing any of them whatsoever, is more than disingenuous – it is contemptible, lying, cynical and fundamentally dishonest.

      Play along with the Lord High Executioner? I should Ko-Ko!

      This is just rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic.

        • I wish you all the very best of success with the event, Bill. I hope that it is indeed as you say it is – and not as I fear it is. Time will tell.

          Rehearsals at the other end of Europe prevent me attending in any case 😉

  • Dear Pooroperaman,
    I would like to agree with you but feel I have to beg to differ. Yes, Ms Pollock would certainly have a hard time challenging the cuts, especially if her Board would not back her up. However, Ms Pollock seems disinclined to not only challenge the cuts but also not spur her Board on to challenging the cuts or finding alternative solutions to the cuts. Neither does she seem determined to spur on her Board to get out there and raise money from private sources.
    It has been well publicised that the now outgoing MD had presented some alternatives that avoided dismembering the company within the scope of the cuts, but was both ignored and discouraged by the ENO board (and perhaps Ms Pollock as well). This leads me to believe that further up the line, ie. the Arts Council England, there is a more suspicious and devious agenda, an agenda that would eventually bring the London Coliseum in to the hands of the ACE by default and reduce the company to a truly insignificant entity.
    It was also clear, judging by the talk amongst many of my colleagues both in and out of the ENO, that some of the applicants for the post of Artistic Director were rejected because they too were able to present ideas that were more to do with raising money to compensate for the cuts and finding ways to regenerate (rather than degenerate) the company that were also relatively in line with what the now outgoing MD had proposed.
    So, it seems that there is not the will to fight for the company amongst the members of the board or the highest realms of management , but rather a will to dismember a company that could be saved if those with imagination, artistic integrity, knowledge and will were allowed to have more say in the matter.
    If the Board will not fight, and I mean FIGHT for the cause then it is logical to assume that Ms Pollock, with her seeming lack of knowledge and experience when it comes to running and revitalising an opera company (as opposed to a pure commercial business with no artistic agenda or heritage at all), has very little chance or even incentive to fight for the cause, fight for her Company and all that that means, either without support.
    The vitriol poured on Ms Pollock, as pointed out above by OperaFan, is indeed difficult to stomach, but not hard to understand under the circumstances. She should never have been given the job in the first place by a board (and of course, the previous AD John Berry) who believe that a business consultant (which is what she is) would be able to understand the wider implications of the political manoeuvring of the ACE’s current stance in respect of the ENO.
    At the same time, the vitriol poured on the ENO board is much easier to stomach and even easier to understand. Not all the board members are individually responsible for the current problems, but historically the various board members or boards of the last 15 years have contributed massively to the problems now facing the company through lack of true governance, and through their lack of will and skill to raise sponsorship and private funding for the company. Bar a couple of people, the present board lacks true will and imagination, and seems totally unwilling to look for solutions that will preserve what is left of an already emasculated community of artists/musicians, technical & stage management and others who are all essential to maintain a opera company that is (especially right now) one of the brightest jewels of the music and artistic scene in London and Great Britain.

    • 100% agreed in all respects. Commendably worded!

      [A former ENO Staffer, and also someone who knows you from way back, Chris 🙂 ]

  • >