Just in: ENO replaces autumn season with 10 weeks of Hairpsray

Just in: ENO replaces autumn season with 10 weeks of Hairpsray


norman lebrecht

April 03, 2020

The English National Opera might as well drop the last word in its name. This is not the end of a new beginning.

Round-robin from Michelle Williams, head of casting:


Dear Friends and Colleagues


I hope that you and your loved ones are well and safe.


Today it will be announced that Hairspray, which had been due to open at the London Coliseum on 23 April, will now be opening at the start of September for a run of ten weeks.


Inevitably, this has an impact on our planned season here at English National Opera.


As you know, we stage musicals at the London Coliseum in order to help us fund as much opera as possible. This income is of even more importance due to our current closure. This announcement will therefore be made today for those who had already purchased a ticket for the musical.


We are keen to reassure you that staging opera is still ENO’s main priority. We are working hard to create a new season of work both at the London Coliseum but also in other venues across London and the UK. We hope to have further details in due course, and are extremely sorry for any worry or frustration caused by delay in hearing from us.


To aid us in this planning process, it would be useful if you could share your availability from 1 August to 20 December 2020.


Like us, we expect many other opera companies are currently remodeling their upcoming seasons. If your artist receives an enquiry but is currently contracted to ENO, please do get in touch before you decline the offer as it may be possible for us to release them.


For now we wanted to ensure that you heard the news about Hairspray’s new dates from us first. Thank you for your continued patience and we will be in touch again as soon as we can.


Due to the nature of this announcement and given the current circumstances we hope you understand that this email has been sent to all artists and agents directly


We hope you continue to stay safe, and I will be intouch with more information soon.


Best wishes


Michelle Williams
Head of Casting
ENO and London Coliseum



  • AngloGerman says:

    May as well just shut it down for good. What a disgrace.

    • Jessica says:

      How is this a disgrace? How will shutting it down help? It’s inevitable that changes will have to be made following the virus. They are simply trying to recoup as much money as possible in order to put on more opera. There’s no choice in my mind, their hand has been forced.

  • Sean says:

    It remains unclear to me if musicals actually bring people to opera; I hope they do (beyond bringing them into a theatre where opera is performed), but my darkest instincts tell me that they are too far apart to really inspire curiosity either way.

    I came to opera via Gilbert and Sullivan here in Australia (marvellous productions by what was then called The Australian Opera) and I continue to enjoy these works as well as moving on to all manner of true operatic repertoire, from Monteverdi to John Adams and (I hope) beyond.

    I know that musicals make money for companies (which is good), but do they inspire investigation into a very different form of lyric theatre? I think the jury remains out on that question.

    • Ron Swanson says:

      It’s not about bringing people to opera, it’s about financially surviving. More people go to musicals than go to opera and if Hairspray means the ENO continues to exist then so be it. Personally I doubt the ENO can continue to exist for much longer but bums on seats matter in the short term.

      • Sean says:

        But do they “then go to opera”? I hope so.

        • Jayne says:

          Why should they? It is two different audiences – both of which are completely worth of excellence in their respective fields. ENO have every right to exploit as many opportunities as possible to fund their work.

          • Sean says:

            I agree entirely Jayne, both forms are fantastic, but if we’re talking about “audience building” for opera (which so many of these companies do when they stage musicals), I just wonder how effective they actually are.

        • Ron Swanson says:

          I doubt that musicals are a gateway to opera. Opera and classical music suffers from the Frasier Crane problem. From where we live a night at the opera is going to cost £500 when you include transport, overnight stay and tickets. People are not going to spend that kind of money to be feel like they are going to be patronised.

        • Jessica says:

          It’s not about that! It’s about making money to continue!

    • Hmus says:

      It doesn’t — You can’t bring people to classical music (or opera) by NOT PERFORMING IT.

  • Resting Musician says:

    So that’s another casualty for the music scene.
    ENO lost it’s way when it started producing poor productions to pamper to the masses.
    It is a travesty that this once distinguished company, born out of Sadler’s Wells Opera has given over to musical pap in form of Michael Ball camping it up in drag.
    Disgraceful, and shame on the board of ENO.

    • Bean says:

      I would argue that “to pamper to the masses” was ENO’s mission from the outset. If you don’t like their production quality then you can walk five minutes down the road to the other house.

  • John Holmes says:

    So what operas are cancelled in Sep 2020 to accomodate the moved ‘Hairspray’ ?

  • Anon says:

    So when all the singers took to social media to praise ENO for paying their ‘artists’ this was the price – a total wipe out for all the singers booked for the autumn.

    So short sighted.

    • IntBaritone says:

      Yes, this. I have several friends who took to instagram and twitter to praise the company for paying them, all the while remembering myself how dire the company’s financials seemed even years ago let alone now. Once they paid the artists, it seemed clear that unless there was some massive government aid coming ENO’s way, they couldn’t go on much longer.

      I do not understand so many company’s reactions to this crisis. And this ENO one puzzled me fully. And now, actually telling artists and managers, “hey, if you have to cancel on us for the upcoming season, please do! we will release you!” (and we therefore do not have to pay you for us cancelling outside of force majeure) is unbelievable.

      The whole industry really is damned. It’s such an unbelievable shame.

    • Jessica says:

      If you read the email, it suggests that some productions will be moved. They have checked the artists availability and I’m sure will continue to use them.

  • The Internet is Not Real Life says:

    What would people prefer? A company to doggedly continue performing opera and go bankrupt in this completely bizarre situation, resulting in bankruptcy and no more company? Or do one less opera in a season in order to get some financial security, and be able to continue performing opera for the rest of the year and into the future? Organizations and companies like this can’t afford to be making decisions based on the cranky Slipped Disc denizens who like to throw tomatoes at everything and criticize every decision that takes away their yearly Zeffirelli production of Boheme. Sometimes things need to change.

    • Anon says:

      Why does it have to be all or nothing?

      Reality is likely to be somewhere in the middle but, sure, take it out on the readers of a site (of which you’re one!).

      More legitimate criticism might be to examine why ENO own the Coliseum – it places an enormous burden on the company to make the West End’s largest theatre profitable.

      Compare to CBSO or Opera North, neither of which own the venues they are resident in leaving them to place artistic vision as a higher priority than finance.

      • Ron Swanson says:

        Would that be the CBSO that is facing a six figure loss this year? Do you mean Opera North that revived a £108 subsidie for each ticket sold? All arts organisations in the UK are going to face cuts in subsidies and if they are going to survive they need to start putting bums on seats.

        • Anon says:

          Exactly, Ron. And they’re in a far better position to cope with the situation without albatrosses round their necks.

          Thank you for proving my point so succinctly 🙂

          • Larry D says:

            “Thank you for proving my point”. Is there a reward for most smug comment on this site?

      • The Internet is Not Real Life says:

        I think my point was that it’s not all or nothing – the ENO is putting on one musical to essentially finance their opera season, which strikes me as extremely fiscally responsible. Instead of praise, they are getting the usual cranky criticism from the Statler and Waldorf crowd.

        I don’t know enough about their situation, but renting halls can be financially burdensome as well for organizations.

        • Ron Swanson says:

          They have to change permanently. Last time I checked ENO gets 60% of its income from the government. That level of funding is not going to be there anymore. The government is committed to spending at least £500 billion on the current crisis. The RSC gets 30% of its income from the state, largely because of the royalties from Les Miserables.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      Unfair. I’ll gladly throw tomatoes at any Zeffirelli production 🙂

  • John Holmes says:

    ==cranky Slipped Disc denizens who like to throw tomatoes at everything

    Yes well said !

  • Stuart says:

    We are keen to reassure you that staging opera is still ENO’s main priority.

    Actions speak louder than words. ENO lost its way a long time ago.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    This presupposes that the crisis is over by the autumn and that audiences will be in a position to fill the vast expanses of the Coliseum until ENO can start up again. The same can be said for all other companies with the exception of ROH which operates on an entirely different model.

    Large numbers of theatres in London rely on tourism and the aftermath of lockdowns across the world and the UK and significant loss of earnings and increases in debts will mean that it will take a long time for things to get back to normal, if indeed they ever do for more than just ENO.

    ENO have particular problems which this current situation will not have helped but with many organisations facing an uncertain future at least they have the possibility of an income source that other companies, Reportory Theatres, Orchestras, and other Arts organisations have not. The Arts Council will need deep pockets and a very sympathetic ear in Whitehall if it is to see more than just ENO from the aftermath of what yet is something that may not be over any time soon.

  • Bob Goldsmith says:

    If you actually read the letter, the Head of Casting is seeking continued availability of artists during the autumn, presumably with a view to staging ENO’S planned opera productions in other venues. We know the Hackney Empire works well when it’s a smaller orchestra. Only two productions last autumn used the full band, which reduces the problem of finding a larger space to manageable proportions. Quite honestly, the ENO Board had little choice, as in today’s age of reduced Arts Council grant the whole season will have been predicated on the income from Hairspray which will have constitited a massive element of their budget. Extremely sad and regrettable I agree, but an inevitable consequence of ENO’s current funding model and the totally unpredictable Croronavirus pandemic.

  • Bruce says:

    You do what you have to do to survive.

    Seems they would be saving money by hosting the musical at home rather than renting the Coliseum; if so, then smart move. And it will probably bring in more money than whatever opera(s) they would have put on in that time.

    And anyway, the Boston Symphony has used their Pops season to pay for the regular season for millennia. It’s not a new thing.

  • Bob Goldsmith says:

    So now we know that if you receive comments that prick the bubble of your trouble making posts you simply refuse to clear them for posting. 20hrs my post has say here unmoderated. This blog really is a disgrace.