What the ENO chief executive wears to work

A fashion mag shoot with Cressida Pollock is going like wildfire around social media.

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This waisted shirt dress retails at £295.

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She wears trainers with it, apparently, ‘to navigate all those backstage stairs’.

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  • This woman needs to go! Our National Opera is not the place for her. It is clear that she is a “Career CEO”. I really don’t believe she has any interest in the arts, or in fulfilling ENO’s mission… This year’s programming proves that. A long run of the musical Carousel (With questionable casting), ballets, visiting companies and then Bat out of Hell the musical! Opera is being squeezed out of the London Coliseum… We need an artistic CEO for ENO. Someone with a background, love and Passion for the art form of Opera. Someone who can fight for more public funding, not less. Someone who can attract sponsors and benefactors. I just don’t believe she can. With the recent “rebranding” of the Coliseum as a venue, perhaps she is aiming to be CEO of London Coliseum as a company…? She is doing nothing for Opera… It saddens and angers me.

    • John, with the greatest of respect, who do you suggest then? ENO can only appoint who applies and wants the job on the salary it can offer with what’s also on the menu, and with experience and management skills of the first order – particularly of money. I love ENO but not everyone else does, and don’t want to work there. Give her a chance I would say. Everyone that has come to ENO, someone has said he or she has to go. See if Katharine Jenkins brings in the money. I hope she does as it’s badly needed. We are living in different times.

      • Una, you seem to be under the impression that the job of CEO was advertised and applied for. Ms Pollock was there as a management consultant and then appointed by the board without due process. It was a shoo-in.

    • I’m sure CP would say to advertise ENO. But I believe it is to further her own career. She markets herself in this article as a She-E-O. She has studied management and worked for a management consultancy firm. I’m sure she is very good at it in a normal company. But National Opera’s aren’t normal companies and neither should they be, in my opinion! I’m happy for her to have a long and successful career, but not at ENO. ENO is doomed under her questionable leadership.

  • Absolutely agree with John Daszak’s comments above. The article about Cressida Pollock that you mention is an embarrassment to ENO and to her. ENO should by run by someone who values Opera and values the Company that works there. The quality of work being put out by the orchestra chorus and soloists (backed up by all those backstage) is always so high. They are being massively let down by poor management at the moment and it saddens me so much.

  • I suppose come January, Daniel Kramer will be leading the creative with Brabbins. Maybe then there will be a more artistic focus?? Whatever people may think of Daniel, he is an ideas man, he is definitely passionate about opera and by all accounts, one heck of a fundraiser! As you say, exactly what’s needed. visiting companies are a good income for a company desperately in need of money. As long as the opera increases year on year, rather than being reduced in ever decreasing circles..the proof will be when the new season is announced – more or less productions coming up?? Musical co-prods were never really an issue for Sweeney and Sunset that I remember, but all hell broke loose with the casting of Katherine and Alfie – looking at Daniel Kramer’s twitter, ENO don’t choose the title or cast the show, so have been lumbered with that (oops) – maybe a clause is needed in the next contract for veto?! Not sure the relentless bashing on social media and in press is helping ENO though. Its quite incredible that the STAFF and guest singers of a company are tweeting the press about what a useless cock-up it is – it tells you something about how unhappy they are. I fear ACE / the paying public are more likely to think “what a mess” too and give up on it rather than rallying to help.. that’s the serious risk of this ‘campaign’ backfiring which worries me. Will the removal of Cressida and her waisted shirt dress bring back the much needed funding?

    • This is not about what Daniel Kramer and Martyn Brabbins can put together for the NPO application in March, nor the general artistic standard of ENO’s output. I am sure that, in good faith, everyone wishes them all the best in that endeavour. This is about the engagement of a highly inexperienced person as CEO and the board’s blind support of her poorly devised plans to use the Coliseum to raise money by making the company silent, and continuously damaging both company morale and its reputation in the process. It is increasingly difficult to refute Sir Peter Jonas’s theory that this is part of a move to close the company and hand over the Coliseum to the ACE. In any case, her self-promotion through a woeful article such as this does ENO harm, as does the inept handling of the Blackpool booking on which much of her so-called manifesto stood. While complaints about her might not win ENO friends while she remains in charge, it would be remiss of the opera community not to object to the wilful destruction of this national company: it is the belief of many respected artists and others that it is only by removing Ms Pollock that ENO can be led competently and in the spirit of its purpose, both of which should help make a case for increases in both private and public funding.

      Regarding the musicals, it should be remembered that the plan was to create productions that could transfer to the West End and make significant income for ENO, without transgressing on its schedule of opera performances. Neither of these remains the case.

      • Agree that the article is appalling. As for musicals, Carousel is one of the finest and most popular, and there should surely be no reason why it can not transfer with the right production and cast. Nicholas Hyntner’s superb inspired 1992 production at the National Theatre went on to play in the West End for many months before a transfer to the Lincoln Center for about 8 months (where Shirley Verrett took the role of Nellie Fowler).

        • Sure…I’m personally not a fan of musicals being performed at Opera Houses, but many people are. I’m not against one or two runs of musicals per year as long as they are performed by the Opera Company with Opera orchestra and Chorus and operatic soloists. it happens all over Germany and in other UK houses successfully. I am against using so called “celebrities” when they are miscast and also allowing another production company to strip the benefits/profit from the Opera company in whose house they are performing… I would like to know how much of the profit from the agreement in place at ENO with Gateplc (Grade/Linnit) actually goes back into ENO…

          • That vacuous article has been around since July – not sure why it’s taken off now?

            Anyway, as we draw to the end of a year which has seen Mark Wigglesworth seal his run of six musically superlative performances – tive of them were fine productions, too – with the stunning Lulu (which I went to three times), it’s worth taking stock of what has been lost. I wish all those big names among singers and directors who have said they won’t work with ENO again would come forward.

            Meanwhile, there’s not much to look forward to so far. Daniel Kramer seems committed, and shouldn’t be judged on what he’s done on stage in his present role. But he will never live down the statement on Start the Week that he would not be including ‘Janacek and other obscures’ in the repertoire for the foreseeable future. Instead – White Horse Inn? The Land of Smiles? Anybody? No, thought not. Martyn Brabbins is the best possible choice for successor, though Wigglesworth is irreplaceable.

            On Carousel – I’d love to see it given the big orchestral treatment. But with Katherine Jenkins, an inadequate mezzo, singing the lyric-soprano role of Julie and Alfie Boe, a light tenor who has mouthed off about how crap opera is, as baritone Billy Bigelow, I shan’t be going. As if they care – bums on seats. But, as one distinguished tweeter pointed out, that’s ‘the ENO brand down the toilet’. As for Meat Loaf without the man himself, well…

        • It cannot transfer for a long-running run in the West End / Broadway because it is not a full production and lacks sort of the investment that was put into NT’s lucrative hits. That is not to say that a semi-staging is necessarily a terrible thing, only that it cannot offer the financial benefits to the company that were promised. However, a consequence of the semi-staging seems to be putting bums-on-seats casting before common sense in order to have any box-office at all, and that is damaging to ENO.

      • Land of Smiles and White Horse Inn are exactly the sort of thing ENO *should* be doing. I’d be there in a flash and White Horses wouldn’t drag me away.

        • Sorry, Halldor, I fancy you are in a minority. I mean, one once in a blue moon, but at the expense of Janacek, Britten etc?

          Dare I ask if Viennese operetta and trainspotting go together?

          • Much as I love those works, I was being slightly tongue-in-cheek. You’re right of course – which is why Rodgers and Hammerstein makes an excellent middle path: works in the operetta tradition, on an artistic level with all but the greatest standard repertoire operas, that still attract a sizeable audience. I agree it’s certainly a shame that the producers here seem to be casting so unsuitably. It suggests a basic contempt for important pieces of C20th music theatre, which, as people have said elsewhere here, have received high-quality, artistically credible stagings by major opera companies elsewhere in the UK, and have succeeded at the box office.

            I suspect Janacek and Britten fall into the category – like Berg’s operas – of works which simply don’t make back the money laid out on them. It’d be interesting to see box-office breakdowns for a range of productions. It’s not a question of a work’s artistic merit; if a company that’s effectively lost public funding is trying to meet income targets to stay afloat, they’ll have to grapple with truths that opera-lovers and critics don’t really have to (or want to) face: that certain composers, no matter how fine, simply do not sell. I wouldn’t necessarily argue that miscasting the work that *does* sell is the best way to do that, of course.

        • That won’t put your ordinary people into the place to fill it and where money is badly needed, and people know Carousel by the tunes, and most of the audience won’t be opera goers but some will. And if George Harewood turns in his grave, so be it. His day is over and things weren’t hunky dory there either. It’s a way in for people who get intimidated by the ‘opera brigade’ who think they are superior – and I speak as an opera singer. I’ve spent my life promoting opera to those who otherwise wouldn’t go. And ENO has been putting on opera of every sort for anyone who wants to go to opera for years but never to full houses. Carousel will be a sell out, and good luck to them. It was for Opera North. The Coliseum is not an opera house anyhow, it’s just where ENO do opera and who happen to own the building. Opera North have to compete with Chicago and all sorts of things at the moment and Panto in the same building, and it works as well as it can. They don’t own the building so they have to fit in each year at the Grand and everywhere else they tour, with what is going on.

          I really wish ENO well,

          • Halldor, it’s interesting that the last night of Lulu sold out – maybe because it was such a short run. But the Kentridge lovers came as well as ENO regulars and Bergians. And it was done at so very high a level that first-timers found it engrossing, I gather. Yes, it’s still a bit long and I think Berg would have trimmed had he lived, but what an embarrassment of riches.

            As for bums on seats, one of the big might-have beens was a Gondoliers from Wigglesworth and Richard Jones. Not gonna happen now. G&S and Hollywood musicals definitely OK, but IMO Viennese operetta is not going to get the younger or even the middle-aged punters in…

  • When I was at ENO as part of the Company from 1988 – 1995, ENO produced around 17 Operas a year! As choristers we were split into 2 groups and so on average we were involved in 8 or 9 Operas a year. During my 7 years with ENO I was in 43 DIFFERENT Operas!! What has this Company come to? As Victoria Simmonds has already said, “The quality of work being put out by the orchestra chorus and soloists (backed up by all those backstage) is always so high. They are being massively let down by poor management at the moment and it saddens me so much.” I have to have to concur with her thoughts.

    • Helena

      I’ve heard so much of that from my singing teacher who was principle baritone there for 17 years, and people I know who were in the chorus and various people in the orchestra over the years. I can think of nothing worse when they did Trovatore, having no producer as they couldn’t afford one in the 90s, but using the conductor and the administrator ‘producing’ the opera. I too remember the double chorus of ENO and the work it provided. Now there is hardly a chorus in comparison but that is also a sign of our financial times in England where football is more important.

  • I had not realised the Carousel casting was Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Boe. Bums on seats no doubt, but at what cost artistically? And why does the ENO information not tell audiences who will sing the crucial role of Nettie, excellently performed in 1992 by Patricia Routledge?

    • Probably because as a commercial offering they are building it around the two names of Jenkins and Boe and do not yet know or particularly care who will sing the large-voice short mezzo role of Nettie. Incidentally Jenkins is marketed normally as a mezzo while Julie, her ENO role, is of course for soprano.

      • It is often sung by a mezzo, as it was here in Opera North too, and the range is limited, and many can produce the right sound too.

  • Daniel Kramer is producing Sadko in Ghent. Great that this rarity is mounted but is Janacek, once a core part of SWO/ENO, obscure compared with this?

    • Now there you’re talking. I’d give a lot to see more Rimsky-Korsakov operas at ENO. And Opera North proved itself superior to ENO this season by including among its four operas with major work for the chorus The Snow Maiden. But I’m still not sure Russian fairy-tales press the right ENO buttons.

        • Yes, it certainly did – and what a shame they never did Tchaikovsky’s Vakula the Smith/The Slippers with the same sets (Zambello at the Royal Opera rather messed that up). What I mean is whether the RK operas fit present criteria. They should, of course. But what ENO’s identity is to be I don’t know, and I’m beginning not to care. There has to be a rebirth, but maybe not at the Coli and certainly not with the present CEO. The recent machinations of a certain PA were absolutely shocking, but not surprising.

  • Come on now, you dislike her because you think she’s not a bien pensant. She’s obviously interested in fashion and a female – not your mail order bien pensant. I expect she’s just not following orders with regard to her politics and ideologies.

    So transparent.

    • Fashion you say. She looks as though she couldnt find a top to match any of her skirts and then turns up in an awful pair of trainers. Ugh!

  • An utterly unforgivable piece of self aggrandisement by the woman ruining a once-proud company. She and her board should become ashamed

  • We recently saw both Verdi”s Macbeth and Kiss Me Kate performed by WNO. Both productions were superbly directed and sung (Macbeth directed by Oliver Mears, soon to be at the helm of ROH), both performed by the Welsh National Opera company themselves. They demonstrated their musical versatility. No musical standards were compromised. How different from CP’s plans for ENO!
    There is no justification for them. She seems like a callow, empty-headed musical ignoramus, clearly out of her depth. For the sake of ENO I pray she moves on soon.

    • A bit unfair only in that CEOs of opera companies don’t absolutely have to be steeped in music. Initially, when I saw CP at performances, it looked as if she was really enjoying them. But subsequent actions have shown that she doesn’t ‘get’ what, at the risk of sounding pompous, making great art at the highest level is all about. And, worst of all, that she has fostered only divisiveness in an organisation always known for its company spirit. Wigglesworth did everything to foster that, and now it’s been broken irreparably.

  • I’ve read it. It’s not an article, it’s only a fashion retailer’s blog. Alexander Lewis makes two references to ‘Caroline’ instead of ‘Cressida’. And actually writing ‘Hazel Gaskin was kind enough to man the lens…’ shows a quite otherworldly level of insouciance, or a form of subliminal signalling which Ms Gaskin might not appreciate…

  • As I consider this in the light of the attempts to mute the voices trying to #saveeno, to focus on the clothing, is to give the opportunity to be written off as sexist commentators who are unable to look beyond the clothes is not wise. Similarly, the ad hominem attacks on KJ do nothing to open up the real issue.
    The first is the distasteful lack of judgement that the article suggests- at a time when the company is in a dire condition (thank you so Berry, Berry much), is the CEO is engaging in what look like shallow attempts to raise their personal profile.
    On Carousel, the focus should be on the idea of an opera company sacrificing its prime raison d’être to mount a semi staged musical is s disgrace. Casting is different. We all accept the subjective nature of the art form and we can all bring up examples of woeful casting praised to the rafters by public and critics alike (I should know, as a veteran of Scot Op in the 80s and 90s

    • The annual musicals have always been around Easter when the full company wasn’t at work anyway (formerly you had ballet). I have no problem with it at all, just that it should be well done. Sweeney Todd was wrecked by the miking, Sunset Boulevard was much better in that respect and actually came off well regardless of the limitations of the material. So I do think you’re barking up the wrong tree there.

      Even my old ma, who knows her musicals, asked why ‘wimpy’ Alfie Boe should have been cast as a hunky fairground barker. And she doesn’t know that THAT role should be sung by a baritone or bass-baritone, no question.

      • I’m not sure if by “wrecked by the miking” you mean the sound balance engineers did a lousy job or that no miking would have been preferable. I saw neither production but surely if musicals have to be miked in small West End theatres, it is doubly so in the barn of the Coliseum. Certainly Glenn Close does not have a voice to carry in that House – and nor does Katherine Jenkins!

  • Dear Mr. Lebrecht, What is your point with this squib of a comment? (It seems most of those that responded did not see a point either…) This sexist blurb is beneath you and you have, in my humble opinion, done great harm to the integrity of your journal. This reeks of body shaming and the continued double standard in the industry by so called “open minded” people. I highly doubt you would have mentioned the “work” styles and costs of clothes worn by a male general director. singer, or conductor. And, if I am correct, this was for a magazine photo shoot. So, again, what is your point other than perhaps a touch of latent misogyny? Cressida Pollack is a highly respected force in the artistic world and I, for one, believe you owe her an apology.
    Franco Pomponi

    • I think the problem was that it appeared on the ENO website for a while (correct me if I’m wrong). I would, though, like some chapter and verse on your assertion that ‘Cressida Pollack [sic] is a highly respected force in the artistic world and I, for one, believe you owe her an apology’. Apologies, as I know from personal and closely related experience, do not come easily, if ever, to Ms Pollock. Indeed, her lack of response to courteous requests has been in such marked response to Kasper Holten at the Royal Opera, who makes the point of replying to everybody when he can. If she ever starts to show how to foster company spirit, many of us would cut her some slack.

  • I understand that, despite never having sung in a full-length production before, Katherine Jenkins is listed as appearing in no fewer than 41 consecutive performances of Carousel. It is hard to believe that she won’t be replaced by an understudy for much of the run, but ENO are as usual being very tight-lipped on the subject. Advance bookings to date aren’t bad, but they’re not exactly brilliant either. Could this whole thing be a catastrophic error on ENO’s part?

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