Breaking: Arts Council renews funding for English National Opera

Breaking: Arts Council renews funding for English National Opera


norman lebrecht

June 27, 2017

ENO has jumped the gun on this morning’s ACE announcement. tweeting that it has been readmitted to the funding organisation’s National Portfolio.

However, it will remain at the present reduced funding level of £12.38 million.

Here’s the ENO press release, once again turning a setback into victory.


  • Halldor says:

    They’ve been readmitted to the Portfolio and they’re getting a larger grant than any comparable company other than the Royal Opera. How is that not a successful outcome?

  • Sanchia Norman says:

    The fact that they’ve been readmitted is a huge validation of the turnaround CEO’s work. Finally the company is being properly managed – in the truest sense of the word – by someone who can understands that business decisions should be made on cold hard data rather than gut feel. Furthermore the business review undertaken has thrown up new market channels and business opportunities that have been ignored for years by previous “leaders” of this company.

    Any responsibly run business would be managed in this way and it’s frankly scandalous that so few arts organisations have people with proper management skills and experience at their helms. Apart from the wonderful news that this cherished company has been saved from bankruptcy, this is also a fantastic result for all ENO employees and their families who now have their jobs and future income assured rather than constantly being on a knife edge.

    • Alexander Davidson says:

      I know a couple of former ENO employees who have given a very different picture. It was my understanding that front-of-house staff had already been re-employed on new contracts that make working front-of-house at the London Coliseum no longer viable as a full-time job and sole means of income. I certainly know of at least two former London Coliseum front-of-house staff who have left to seek alternative positions because they felt that new working arrangements rendered their position essentially casual/part-time and not offering sufficient income and/or security to support themselves. My apologies to all concerned if I have misunderstood this, but to the best of my knowledge I have not.

      I also understood that ENO had gone ahead, albeit with some compromise, with reducing the size of the chorus and re-employing chorus members of contracts that mean that they have to seek alternative work for part of the year (by cutting their salaries, meaning that they have to live on less money or seek extra work, especially during the summer). This took place amid great confusion, so there is a real possibility that I may have grasped some out-of-date facts.

      People I know who used to work for ENO have reported very different feelings about the new management. I hear that people feel that Cressida Pollock is an able business leader but that the culture of ENO so that commercial interests are prioritised over artistic vision. I do appreciate that the artistic vision cannot flourish unless commercial interests are adequately served, but other organisations (most notably the Royal Opera House) show that it is not necessary for one to suffer at the expense of the other.

      Already this year the London Coliseum has been used for a semi-staged production of Carousel, starring Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins, the latter, in particular, commercially successful but not an artist of the calibre traditionally associated with the stage of the London Coliseum, and currently it is being used for the musical Bat Out of Hell. Can one imagine the Royal Opera House being put to such use? This is perfectly legitimate activity, but it is surely better suited to commercial West End theatre, not the home of English National Opera.

      When I first began to go to the London Coliseum it was known first and foremost as a venue for opera and ballet of the highest calibre with a special role promoting performance of repertoire often less well served by the Royal Opera House, such as Handel and British and Czech composers. I feel that a commercially astute and artistically sensitive management could have enabled English National Opera to continue to serve its original purpose and high artistic standards without necessarily compromising commercial viability.

      • Alexander Davidson says:

        “… but that the culture of ENO *has changed* so that commercial interests are prioritised over artistic vision.”

        An edit function would be useful on this site.

  • Sanchia Norman says:

    I don’t disagree with many of your points above Alexander (especially about the edit function!), though unfortunately my experience of working on turnaround projects for businesses of all types shows that when it’s truly make or break – as it seems to have been for ENO in recent years – then you do have to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. I would hope that once this newly stabilised scenario has been properly consolidated then the chorus contracts could be re-appraised for example, and this would seem to be more viable once the number of annual operas in production returns to previous levels (as advertised in today’s ENO press release) anyway.

    It’s my understanding that the “Bat out of Hell” production currently on at the Coli isn’t an ENO production at all, but that the CEO has secured a considerable rental deal in return for hiring out the theatre for it. In the meantime, some of the company have been putting on a new opera about Charlie Parker at the Hackney Empire, and the Festival Hall is about to be treated to a rather delicious-looking Dream of Gerontius over this weekend. I know that there is a rather purist argument against renting the Coli out in this way, but if the returns are significant enough to help to stabilise the finances then I can’t see many downsides, particularly if new/interesting productions are being staged by the company elsewhere while the theatre is otherwise engaged.

    In terms of your very valid points about commercial versus artistic interests, I think it’s key to remember that turning around a failing business is a very different proposition to running a successful one. Apart from difficult decisions being made it’s also sometimes necessary to open everyone’s minds to alternative income channels for the short-term. Carousel would certainly seem to be more of a commercial than artistic proposition, but if the sums around production costs versus ticket sales were significantly to ENO’s advantage then I’m not sure we should all be too sniffy about it. It’s a big leap from this to assume that this is representative of the future picture for the company after all, though I’ve personally really enjoyed the previous cross-over productions they’ve put on of Sweeney Todd, On the Town and Candide, all of which could arguably be more appropriately set in a more commercial west end theatre. The upcoming season looks good and stimulating, and hopefully the subsequent one will show increases in quantity as well as maintaining the very high quality that we’re all so lucky to enjoy. .

    • Sanchia Norman says:

      I meant to also add that perhaps it’s not so useful currently to compare ENO with the ROH given that the latter has much a much more mature approach to corporate and personal sponsorship. This is not at all to imply that ENO couldn’t achieve the same over time, but simply that their efforts in this area have been much patchier previously. They may be ostensibly selling the same product, but it’s clear that the two companies are at radically different stages on their development curves in terms of business practice.

      The advantages that the ROH boasts in terms of highly professional marketing and international league soloists and conductors means that their particular ratio of supply and demand has enabled them to charge far more for tickets. Combine this with the fact that they are regularly sold out for opera performances (not so sure about ballet) and you could reasonably draw the conclusion that they are far more financially secure regardless of the level of ACE grant given to them.

      ENO’s market proposition isn’t (and shouldn’t) be the same as the ROH’s. Their emphasis on more accessible ticket prices and on staging truly beautiful Handel and British operas – many of which are rarely staged elsewhere – more than justifies their continued existence in my view. Additionally their track record of innovative and creative productions (in contrast to the ROH’s often far more staid offerings) means that their offering is all the more valuable.

  • Count John McCormack says:

    Thanks to Arlene Foster and her band of DUPers NI now has the cash which Cameron and Osborne removed from the Arts Council NI. Now we can have Castleward Opera again, trebles all round, Just heard East Antrim Council shelled out £30k for land for a bonfire site! At least the plebs will have somewhere to keep their 11th July mess in one place.

  • GG says:

    Front of house? People who often act as if they are – or could be replaced by – eager volunteers working for nothing except the chance to watch the shows? This is not a great argument.

    But losing Mark Wigglesworth, probably the best opera conductor we have in Britain at the moment, that is a scandal.