Remembering ENO at its best

Remembering ENO at its best


norman lebrecht

November 05, 2022

This was just 8 years ago.

This was 13 years ago

This was 1973

The most historic moment, June 1945


  • Player says:

    The Mastersingrs of 1968, conducted by Goodall, and the the Ring in the ’70s. Even as late as 2015, Gardner produced the goods with an epic Mastersingers, imported from WNO, produced by Richard Jones.

    Sad times therefore but they have REALLY messed up. The board has overseen the loss of any sense of company, esprit de corps or shared artistic values.

    I guess now they keep the Coliseum, as an asset and cash cow to fund the rest of what they do? Not sure they will end up performing in London very much unless with a cast-iron show… would cost them too much in lost revenue.

    ENO will now be ETO, with a big London theatre attached…

    • Violinista says:

      Indeed Reginald Goodall’s ‘Die Meistersinger’ was memorable, but not just for the music, as I recall Hans Sachs unfortunately dropping a shoe into the pit at the performance I went to. I think all was well as one of the orchestra handed it back with a smile.

  • Matthew Turner says:

    As an freelance timpanist who has worked at ENO for many years, I can safely say this is the most disgusting decision ACE have ever made.

    Hang your heads in shame

  • Duncan says:

    Attending the Goodall Ring cycle remains a powerful memory for me. Great opera company and I hope they survive.

    • Garry Humphreys says:

      By the time I saw it the ‘Goodall Ring’ had been taken over by Charles Groves but was still a defining moment of my musical life and, at the end of ‘Gotterdammerung’, I just wanted it to start all over again! Many wonderful memories of the Coliseum in the 70s/80s: I remember I went to Reimann’s ‘Lear’ four times!

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    We can all look back through rose tinted glasses but ENO is where it is today and who knows where it might be tomorrow because it is no longer English nor National in any strict sense of its name. Indeed the association of the two is now anathematised in many quarters, not least one suspects ACE.

    My experiences of them are from the dim and distant past, starting with Sadlers Wells Touring and then ENO when it toured. At the same time I journeyed from Manchester to Birmingham to WNO on tour and it is fair to say that both were more vibrant than the fusty, dusty, productions I occasionally saw at Covent Garden then.

    Jo Barstow. Rita Hunter et al. The divine Valerie Masterson. Margaret Curphey. Tenors were largely a problem but then aren’t they in many houses? Norman Bailey. the talent just gave and gave and we saw in Manchester what could be seen in St Martins Lane. Alas, no more and not just because they don’t tour but because what they stage is little different than the staple everywhere else.

    I have commented elsewhere about my belief that ENO should fade away as graciously as it can because setting up home elsewhere without the concomitant funding will likely be at the expense of more local companies, in my case ON, who to some extent have filled the void but my modern day operagoing rarely, if ever, gives me the frisson of my early years and that is more likely to my decrepitude than anything that appears on the stages of today.

    ENO have had a good run for their, our, money. Time to reassess what, if anything, they can offer that is not already available and redistribute their subsidy to companies that already service the regional audience. ENO fighting it out with ON, WNO, ETO and other small scale companies for funds is hardly a responsible prospect for any of them.

    • Tancredi says:

      Opera in English is surely a desirable pursuit, even for those of us who prefer the original languages. I think of a former colleague for whom it being in English was key -.

  • Roy Stedall-Humphryes says:

    Who is the prime mover behind Ace’s retrograde decision to this to the ENO?

    • Michael says:

      Listening to a culture “minister” the other day I had the impression that the ACE was effectively told what to do! I know European economies are different, but in my frequent visits to various opera and dance houses in the Ruhr area for example I have for decades been impressed by the numbers of young people in the audience and of course in most cases the low ticket prices!

      Of course in difficult economic times in the UK, the automatic response is to reduce arts subsidies. A more thoughtful response would be how much better we would all feel in these difficult times if arts subsidies – already pitifully low – were to be increased!

      I was at the first night of the Gielgud Mastersingers when what became ENO moved to the Coliseum. I also saw several wonderful Goodall Rings, the first standing up in the gods! I went to most shows there in my 20s and 30s, often using (long since discontinued) subscriptions. As a Young Covent Garden Friend I saw many (often subsidised) operas and ballets (the latter introducing me to Mahler and Stravinsky!). What’s happened?

      • Symphony musician says:

        Michael, I totally agree, the arts needs more public investment. Government arts spending is a pitiful amount in England and even the whole amount could hardly make a difference to any other area of government spending. The massive real terms cut since 2010 has, as you say, been the root cause of higher ticket prices and more conservative programming. And now the performing arts companies are being penalised further for those understandable outcomes.

      • Player says:

        What was the Gielgud Mastersingers like? I am agog to learn!

  • Una says:

    1971 and my second ever opera seen – Janet Baker as Poppea, Tom McDonnell as Ottone, Robert Ferguson as Ottone in Monteverdi’ Coronation of Poppea with Raymond Leppard conducting. I have the BBC recording.

  • Una says:

    Sorry meant Robert Ferguson as Nero.

  • E says:

    I also attended the Goodall Ring and agree that was a memorable experience. I went a lot in the 1970’s. The problem is that they were a great company but have been run into the ground by recent successive managements. Its a great shame but am not surprised at the decision.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    I’m with the others on the wonderful Goodall Ring. Alas, I never saw his Mastersingers live, although I play the CDs frequently.

    The Copley Carmen was a great execution in a form which would probably be regarded as quaint and old-fashioned these days. Such a shame that the BBC television broadcast is not available.

    The Miller Rigoletto was an early example of how transposing the narrative into a different time and place can add real depth.

    And very happy recollections of the diction before standards dropped shamelessly and surtitles were introduced.

    RIP. I cut my operatic teeth at the Coli starting with Penderecki in 1973. (I was a Penderecki fan before I ever contemplated opera.) Very happy memories. How sad to have borne witness to this long drawn-out terminal disease.

  • Jack technician says:

    They have killed the ENO. Stuart Murphy banged the final nails in the coffin. .. worked there for 20 years . Bad management at every level..

  • Antwerp Smerle says:

    Some great moments here, and poignant memories from John Tom. Thanks, NL. I would add a reminder that the “powerhouse” era under Jonas, Pountney and Elder was another high point in ENO’s history. Productions such as their “Hansel and Gretel” were unforgettable. But the world turns, times and tastes change, and “glory days” are exactly that: periods of exalted excellence that cannot be sustained forever.

    My first visit to the Coliseum was to see “The Rhinegold” conducted magnificently by Reggie, when the company was still called Sadlers Wells Opera. My last was to see the desultory and dismal “The Valkyrie” last season. The debacle over the magic fire which was banned by Westminster Council, and the company’s refusal to implement even a quarter-decent alternative, was a massive error of judgment on the part of ENO’s management. So for me, Wagner exemplified the decline and fall of a once-great ensemble.

  • Rob Keeley says:

    The smug, spineless, tin-eared establishment liberal Serota just does what he’s told by the insufferably philistine Dorries. It’s pathetic.

  • Sebastian says:

    Wot, no Jonas+Pountney+Elder on your list? Or indeed Wigglesworth?

  • Karden says:

    Aren’t most cities throughout the world fortunate if they have at least one major opera company? IOW, opera is an art form that for various reasons – even more so in today’s era – may be quite a juggling act to keep performing if it’s too splintered. Or to use another metaphor, maybe there have been too many hands in the pot?

  • Alison says:

    I was in the orchestra in the 70s. So many memories. Prokofiev’s War and Peace. The Devils of Loudun by Penderecki (who visited a rehearsal). Reggie Goodall conducting the Ring. (He was always in the dark and hard to see on the unlit rostrum, as he conducted the whole thing from memory.) Monteverde’s The Coronation of Poppea. Great singers and orchestral musicians. Rita Hunter and Alberto Remedios. Playing cards with Valerie Masterson on a train between touring cities. Brilliant times. I am so sorry and send my love to all who are there now.

  • ENO says:

    My first and only visit was cosi, with all star cast.
    One of them was Kiri Te Kanawa at her radiant very best!
    An evening never to forget.

  • Helena says:

    The People Under the Tree

    There was once a tree so beautiful that it was called the jewel of the earth. Its branches spread for hundreds of feet in every direction. People travelled from all over the world to see the tree and the tree had many gifts for them.

    For some, the great tree offered consolation.
    For some, the great tree offered growth and prosperity.
    For some, the great tree offered shelter and understanding.
    For others, the great tree offered wisdom and inspiration.

    Anyone who visited the great tree departed transformed.

    A lonely child visited the tree and was astonished by every movement of the leaves, every bow of the boughs. The child was filled with inspiration and left with a full heart.

    One day, a man stood before the tree and thought “I need more wisdom. I will build a home under this tree so that I will always have use of its gifts.”

    When they saw that the man lived happily beneath the tree, more people arrived with tools to make their own homes.

    One woman declared that the tree should bring her prosperity. She made a modest home under the tree and waited for the great wealth that would follow.

    For many years, the people under the tree enjoyed the many gifts that were bestowed on them.

    Then one day, the first man who built his house under the great tree thought “I am far wiser than anyone else I know. I will build more dwellings under this tree for my disciples and everyone who hears me talk will be astonished by my great wisdom.” He dug down into the earth, into the very roots of the tree, and built many monuments to himself and his wisdom.

    Soon after, the wealthy woman became restless. “What is the point of all of this wealth if I cannot show people how wealthy and powerful I am? I cannot live in this small house for the rest of my days! I will build cities around this tree and the people who live in my cities will see how great and powerful I really am!” And so she ordered towering buildings to encircle the tree, and the workers plunged into the earth, churning and ripping into the roots of the great tree.

    The tree looked down and felt a great sorrow. Its ability to nourish itself diminished. With every season that passed, fewer gifts were bestowed on the people under the tree.

    Meanwhile, the inspired child had travelled to every country on earth, planting trees of his own. When he was older, he had daughters who wanted with all their hearts to receive the gifts of the great tree. So, the inspired man took his clever daughters to see the tree. But the tree had died.