English National Opera audience drops below 70%

English National Opera audience drops below 70%


norman lebrecht

June 20, 2018

From the company’s financial statement for the year ending 31 July 2017:

Across the period ENO staged 112 performances (2016: 139) which attracted a total audience of 171,000 at 69% of capacity (2016: 237,000 attendees and 75% capacity) with performances of Tristan and Isolde, Lulu and The Winter’s Tale on BBCRadio 3 reaching
an estimated audience of over 535,0000.

ENO’s ambition to reach and develop a wider audience has led to date, to 47% of audiences being first time bookers at ENO. The audience development strategy was supported by affordable ticket pricing (with more than 56,000 tickets being made available at
£20 or less).

Spun whichever way you like, a drop below 70% is seriously bad performance. But put those 171,000 attenders in context: 

Audiences for ENO reached 171,000 and in addition 90,000 saw Sunset Boulevard with Glen Close and 77,000 Carousel that were presented in association with Michael Grade and Michael Linnit.

In other words, the entire ENO opera season attracted the same number of people as attended just two musicals. Sunset at the Coliseum says it all.


  • Rebecca Sunderland says:

    Aren’t these figures relating to a season a little while ago, though?

    Guardian article around the recent season launch pointed out that capacity for the most recent 17/18 season was back up to a paid capacity of 72%…


  • Allen says:

    I’m not saying that ENO doesn’t have a problem, but didn’t we already know that musicals appeal to more people than opera?

    No doubt a season of strip shows would attract even more people than Sunset or Carousel, but perhaps we shouldn’t give ENO ideas.

  • Karen Fodor says:

    ==didn’t we already know that musicals appeal to more people than opera?

    And opening it up to international tennis or boxing might make even more £££

    I think there’s a bit of doom-mongering on this thread

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Time for a fundamental and decisive review of ENO and particularly it’s continued presence at the Coliseum. Even with a much reduced season they are only performing to 70% capacity and the question needs to answered are they able to fill the largest theatre in London when the audience everywhere for opera is shrinking?

    Most companies are finding it difficult to achieve totally sold out performances, even ROH except when they can attract a Netrebko or Kaufmann. ENO is a regional company like WNO, SO, and ON but without any responsibility to tour. It is, unlike them, far more indulged due I believe to it being wholly Lindon based. And yet it is insufficiently appealing to it’s home audience. Why? Well maybe there is not the audience to fill the Coliseum and certainly not at the pricing structure London requires. Musicals, particularly starrily cast, attract a wider tourist based audience and at high prices, and on the whole the classical ballets seem to do well and that may be the future for what appears on the Coliseum stage. But as to ENO, if their core audience is around the 1700 then better to find a new home than die the death of a thousand cuts.

    Speaking as someone who lives outside London, I would rather that the companies within easier reach of where I live due to their touring, WNO and ON, receive more attention than they get. ENO is for me, to use a current analogy, like the old person living in a bigger house than they need or can afford expecting everyone to chip in so that can live in the style to which they have become accustomed and resentful that they should even consider downsizing.

    • Allen says:

      Are they “resentful”, or is the freehold of the Coliseum a huge millstone which they would prefer not to have?

      Moving elsewhere sounds like a simple solution but is there a market for a theatre of this size?

  • Nina Weaver says:

    And they would reach a bigger audience if they did live streaming of operas as ROH and The Met do.

  • Bob Goldsmith says:

    As I predicted, the absence of ENO from the Colliseum for much of the year has broken the habit of regular audiences from attending ‘their’ company throughout the season, to follow the performances of favourite singers, explore new operas and meet friends. The result: even worse attendance and ENO becoming peripheral. This just reinforces that Cressida Pollock had no idea what damage she was causing by making the company part-time. Now sponsorship will drop with smaller audiences unless someone at ENO sees sense that performing regular opera to big audiences is the rationale for an opera company existing. The recent cabaret show at the ting Gate Theatre was a pathetic, pointless and incompetent mess. These audience figures make sad reading, when recalling ENO’s powerhouse days.

  • Adrienne says:

    Can’t help comparing the Coliseum with country house opera, which seems to be on the rise.

    I suspect that the Coliseum is just too big and lacking in intimacy for many people.

    • Nik says:

      You can’t really compare the two. Country house opera is a ‘grand day out’ experience, of which the performance is only one component.

      • Adrienne says:

        I can compare the two. One is intimate, the other is anything but, regardless of what people do before or after the performance.

        Not the same audience, but if people are looking for more intimate performances, ENO at the Coliseum will lose out.

  • V.Lind says:

    I hated The Colosseum because of the size, although I loved the intimacy of the very top floor, where they put the concession tickets, students, etc. But as a theatre it is absurdly overlarge.

    They could maybe close the place for a few months,, gut it and make a smaller venue. Seems unlikely, though. Costly, with a lower revenue stream at the end of it — the number-crunchers, who rarely know their subjects, don’t like that sort of thing.

    Anyway, if I returned to London, I doubt I would be an ENO regular. I detest hearing non-English opera in English. Pity, as it is a great location and I hate to see a company struggling. But is there really such a market for opera-in-English any more?

  • Nick2 says:

    I have often wondered why Stephen Arlen felt it necessary to move out of Sadlers Wells and on what basis he and his Board believed they could make the move financially viable. Was it a vanity project? I suspect he had an ally in Jennie Lee, the Minister for the Arts of the time. Lee was a fervent patron of the arts and an advocate for the expansion of the arts around the country. I remember being told by a senior executive at another opera company then that there were lots of nods and winks along with an unwritten understanding that companies were encouraged to run up moderate annual deficits as a way to finance expansion. Subsequent requests for deficit grants would be treated favourably. And that certainly happened regularly.

    Sadlers Wells moved in 1968 and I recall its reopening with a dreadful Gielgud production of Don Giovanni. I wonder, though, with the advent of the austerity of the Heath government and the tightening of government arts subsidies, how was it able to get through the long recession of the 1970s in the larger theatre? It had certainly had periods of trouble in the smaller theatre long before the move. At one time in the 1950s its Music Director Alexander Gibson led a long string of popular Merry Widow performances to shore up the coffers.

    The decade of the 1980s with the trio of Elder, Pountney and Jonas is often credited with making the company’s new reputation. Many were not convinced. Nicholas Hyntner whose Xerxes had been universally admired, said of the productions, “Euro-bollocks that never has to be comprehensible to anybody but the people sitting out there conceiving.” And this period rarely saw full houses, with more than one financial crisis evolving.

    So I wonder: has ENO ever been really secure at the Coliseum? Was it a stupid move?

    • Mike Schachtrer says:

      The next biggest theatre in London is probably Drury Lane, I have been there far less than the Coliseum but has been far from full for musicals. It is very difficult to fill a house like the Coliseum, or the Met. But surely live streaming further reduces the numbers making the trip to the theatre?

      • Allen says:

        Or, perhaps, some people have switched from ENO to live streamed performances from the ROH or the Met.

        Not many maybe, just a suggestion.

  • Børre Husebye says:

    It may look like the company are struggling too much to keep itself alive. Perhaps the future are to present more traditional productions and in the original language.
    But perhaps the management have no interest in running a operahouse.

  • Kevin Purcell says:

    I would be quite interested to know how many performances of ‘Boulevard’ and Carousel there were in total? That figure would then inform a better analysis in the comparison between Opera attendance and Musicals attendance at ENO.