English Touring Opera has lost its voice

English Touring Opera has lost its voice


norman lebrecht

September 23, 2021

Everything’s gone very quiet at the embattled company, the one that fired half its orchestra to make way for minority players.

Since the furore the CEO James Conway, never previously backward in coming forward, is not responding to emails.

Nor, colleagues tell us, is Dominic Haddock, Head of Development, Communications (sic) & Sales.

Instead, an expensive PR firm has been called in to apply feline skills to a total perceptual disaster.

But it’s going to take a lot more than improving the visuals to put ETO back on its perch.



  • Adrienne says:

    I’m surprised at the amount of coverage this mess has received, and it is not confined to the arts pages.

    I’m not surprised that the ETO management has gone into hiding. They must be wondering what they have unleashed. However, I’m not sure that the Arts Council is as clean as it would like to appear. I suspect that they started the process, they know it has got out of control, and now they’re figuring out how to contain it. The answer is simple – stop the racism.

    Several studies over recent years have reported that young white males are the most disadvantaged in the UK. Address education on (I hate to say it) a class basis, and black, brown and white alike will benefit. Doesn’t sound so trendily ‘woke’ though, does it?

  • Ellie says:

    I’ve always found Dominic extremely passionate and thoroughly genuine about inclusion and opera – this company has a long history of beating the elitist perceptions around opera and widening audiences. I’m so glad to hear they’re taking positive action on players in the pit.

    I know they handled it abominably. Those internal letters to former (freelance) players were a real idiot moment. I think the move was probably a genuine one to be a forward-thinking and agile organisation that acts as well as speaks about diversity.

    But they were too cowardly towards their old freelance players to say so. It was a terribly written letter – no doubt about it.

    I’m not surprised they’ve brought in a PR company – this is exactly the right thing to do when comms are this difficult. I have done so myself at the museum I work at when our trans-inclusivity actions became Daily Mail click-bait.

    • Leyland Maestro says:

      The office management of ETO is 100% white. They were trying to tick the box at anyone’s expense but their own.
      Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his career.

      • Ellie says:

        True – but it’s harder to make the change with people in permanent posts. Diversity on the trustee board is what I often look for. I’m including women as a sign of diversity, as so many boards are still mostly white men (especially the chair)

    • Adrienne says:

      Your understanding of “positive action” is clearly different from mine.

      There’s something deeply disturbing about using black people to combat “elitism”. Oh look – black people! Can’t possibly be elitist, right?

      Patronisation is, in my opinion, the most insidious form of racism.

      • Ellie says:

        Hmm I think it’s more nuanced than that. ‘Diversity’ has never meant just ‘black people’ and does not mean so in this case.

        I agree, ‘using’ people is disturbing.The letter to musicians certainly had more than a whiff of ‘using people’ I do admit – for their funding criteria for starters. But I think – and sincerely hope- that was mostly an epically inept and inaccurate explanation never meant for public viewing rather than really what was going on.

        • Adrienne says:

          “epically inept”

          It was certainly that.

        • Leyland Maestro says:

          ‘ ‘Diversity’ has never meant just ‘black people’ and does not mean so in this case.’

          Oh but it does. The Arts Council has made it clear (though off the record for deniability, of course) that diversity in orchestras is to be ‘visible’ and that furthermore the ‘visible’ ethnicities must be the ‘correct’ ones. It’s as simple, and as crass, as that.

  • Symphony musician says:

    Greater ethnic diversity in the music profession in the UK is desirable. But I think the problem lies more with the national scandal in music education in the UK, well, England at least – the economic exclusion of children from quality music-making. So many schools have poor music provision and make very poor efforts to identify and nurture musical ability in the children they ‘educate’. The proportion of children who are not economically privileged achieving a high standard of performance by age 17, when they’re thinking about higher education, has declined hugely since the 1980s and I see the effect on the profession. I have no way of knowing whether non-white children are affected disproportionately by this, although it seems quite likely. But it is clear that huge numbers of musically-capable children of all ethnic backgrounds are being let down by state music education provision. Government policy is the only thing that could really reverse this trend.

    • Robin Smith says:

      Bring back Grammar Schools and reverse the economic exclusion of children from quality education.

      • Alexander says:

        Bringing back grammar schools would do nothing to address the problem of a lack of diversity at the ETO; or their apparent mishandling of a straightforward HR management matter; or to improve the opportunity of children to access quality music education.

        • Robin Smith says:

          I was talking about education in general – an even more important matter. ETO need the best people they can afford in all positions irrespective of gender, colour or race. Not quotas.

    • In bocca al lupo says:

      Finally an intelligent and well informed comment, thank you.

    • miko says:

      Well spoken.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    So ETO is sufficiently financially sound to engage ‘an expensive PR firm’ to get them out of the predicament they have gotten themselves into? No doubt the same firm that told them that they were not sufficiently diverse enough in the first place. Whoever else is struggling in the current crisis it is certainly not those who throw their clients to the lions and then offer to rescue them from the subsequent mauling.

  • Alexander says:

    “apply feline skills to a perceptual disaster”

    Not sure what this means, but it suggests that Slipped Disc recognises this issue is a matter of perception, not of substance.

    • christopher storey says:

      Alexander : Perhaps if you were one of the dismissed players you might find it a matter of substance rather than perception ?

      The trouble is that their Employment Tribunal claims will probably yield nothing because for all practical purposes ETO is now dead in the water

  • Robin Smith says:

    FWIW. I’ve been to many ETO performances over many years at many different venues and I have never thought it’s orchestra is lacking. Quite the contrary, I have always been astonished at how full and fine a sound they generate from such modest numbers of actual musicians.

  • Adam W. says:

    Perhaps this Woke Whitie finally realized he had to fire himself!

    Biden needs to do the same over in the States. His brain is full of sick!!

  • M McAlpine says:

    Of course, when we get ourselves into a mess we can’t handle, what do we do? Hire an expensive PR company to provide spin. With the money wasted they probably could have hired minority platers and kept everyone else on anyway. Great thinking!

  • Helen says:

    White working class boys are the lowest performing socio economic group within the education sector, and have been for many years.

    See the education committee’s report: The Forgotten.

  • Lance B Brady. says:

    If we were all blind and unable to see colour,would music improve?

  • Andrew Giles Mason says:

    I would understand if they had recruited 20% of the orchestra as that would make them representative, as in the UK about 20% are ethnic minorities, but why 50%? This now means white people are massively underrepresented and turns what may have been a positive move into the opposite. I would point out why is appointing a black person from Eton really more diverse than appointing a working class white person of Polish origin? I wonder how many members of the overwhelmingly white board are being replaced, or is it only people at the lower end of the organisation who need to be ‘diverse’. I am sure you have lots of black cleaners but unfortunately that is not a sign of true diversity either.