Breaking: English National Opera wins a reprieve – for one year

Breaking: English National Opera wins a reprieve – for one year


norman lebrecht

January 17, 2023

ENO is saying that Arts Council England has granted it another year of life in London.

Since ENO statements are heavily spun, this may not be the whole story, but read it for what it’s worth.

It is a temporary climbdown by ACE.

Here’s the ENO statement:

The English National Opera are pleased to confirm that, following negotiations with Arts Council England, the organisation is to receive £11.46m of National Lottery funding for the next financial year, starting 1st April 2023. This represents a 9% cut from the ENO’s previous funding.

The delay in confirming our financial status has meant that our plans for the season ahead will inevitably have to change, including the postponement of a number of new productions as well as our current Ring Cycle, in partnership with the Met, which was due to continue with a new production of Siegfried next season.

However, this level of funding will allow us to honour many of the contracts of the hundreds of freelancers we hire every year, and enable us to continue to make incredible opera available for everyone, in English, with hugely subsidised tickets. It will also allow us to continue the award-winning ENO Breathe, available via 85 NHS Trusts, and ‘Finish This’, available in over 200 schools across the country.

We do remain concerned that this only gives audiences and our workforce one year’s reprieve, and still leaves a huge amount of uncertainty regarding the ENO’s future. For the ENO to meaningfully deliver on the Government’s levelling-up agenda, ACE needs to invest in the organisation at an appropriate level going forward. This has to be done in the context of ACE developing an opera strategy, in conversations with audiences and our colleagues across the industry – something that is still yet to be undertaken by ACE.

The ENO and our audiences remain in the dark as to why ACE decided to remove our status as a National Portfolio Organisation, despite us meeting or exceeding all the criteria they set: one in seven of our audience are under 35, one in five of our principal performers are ethnically diverse and over 50% of our audience are brand new to opera. We have been bringing opera to people nationally via multiple completely free broadcasts, in innovative ways such as car parks via drive-in opera and over TikTok, as well as in more traditional settings, and over 50% of visitors to opera at the Coliseum are from out of London.

Our hope is that, as negotiations for investment for future years continue, some clarity will be provided.

In the meantime, we want to thank everyone for their continued support during this difficult and worrying time for everyone at the ENO.

UPDATE: Arts Council England statement:

An update on English National Opera funding: Investment for 2023/24 business year agreed

Today, Arts Council England agreed it will invest £11.46million in the English National Opera (ENO) for April 2023-March 2024.  This is to sustain a programme of work at the ENO’s home the London Coliseum, and at the same time help the ENO start planning for a new base outside London by 2026.

Further investment for 2024-2026 is also available in principle, subject to discussion and application. The Arts Council and the ENO are working together quickly with an aim to reach agreement by the end of March this year on a further two years of funding.  An overall three years of investment would help the ENO transition over time to a model where it can deliver an innovative opera programme from a base outside London while continuing to perform at its London Coliseum home.  The shared ambition is for the ENO to be in a strong position to apply to the Arts Council’s National Portfolio of funded organisations from 2026, from a new base outside London.

The funding will see the ENO undertake initial development work on a new business model from 2026/27 which will outline the level of public-facing work it plans to deliver both outside and within London; an analysis of options for the future use of the Coliseum, and an outline of the revenue and capital funding needed to transition from the current to the new business model.

Darren Henley, CEO of Arts Council England, said: “This grant will provide the ENO with stability and continuity, while they plan their future. We want to back an exciting programme of work from the ENO in a new home, and make sure it stays part of the brilliant London arts offer, at the Coliseum. We know this means a challenging period of change for the company and its staff, but it will also mean opera for more people in the long term and contributes to the levelling up of cultural investment.

“The funding announced today is on top of a £30million per year National Portfolio commitment to opera and the many talented people who work within it.

“Our financial resources are finite, and today’s investment balances the public’s desire for high quality arts and culture of all kinds in towns and cities all over England, and the ambitions of artists and creative professionals working across England’s arts, museums and libraries.”

press photo from ENO’s Valyrie: ENO/Tristram Kenton


  • Lawrence Kershaw says:

    It’s a start. And an opportunity for a reset and further campaigning.

  • Una says:

    Perhaps someone should put the Arts Council on a year’s contract and reduce their salaries by 9%! It’s ACE that meets sorting out.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    “……and enable us to continue to make incredible opera available for everyone, in English, with hugely subsidised tickets.”

    Everyone? Well, tell that to the majority of the population that live outside the London catchment area. Better still, explain to those of us who attend(ed) WNO/Glyndebourne touring productions how much of your £11.46m would have helped them continue to serve the audience beyond St Martins Lane. Still, London Welsh boy Bryn should be happy!

  • Will says:

    Excellent news and kudos to ENO for running a really excellent PR campaign in their fight for this.

    The troubling thing is that ACE thought that it would be possible to transition a company of ENO’s size to such a radically different model within 6 months and with less money.

    Darren Henley of ACE states “This grant will provide the ENO with stability and continuity, while they plan their future” – but why was this stability not considered neccessary in this first place?

  • Bryan says:

    ENO have done a very good job at making ACE the enemy in this debate (although the ACE have done a pretty good job themselves, too). But the fact remains that ENO needs a massive rethink. No focus, declining audience (giving away tickets really doesn’t count) and variable artistic quality. Investing in that status quo wasn’t particularly good value. That is probably what the ACE were getting at. But ENO have managed to avoid that fact/accusation with all their chest-beating. Hopefully this is the start of the rethink….

    • Robin Tunnah says:

      Are you suggesting that audience numbers should have some kind of sliding scale of validity according to the particular ticket price paid? That seems the logical conclusion of saying that free ticket audience members shouldn’t count?

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    Good news1 there has been quite a fightback against the Arts Council decision in the Daily Telegraph and other media outlets.

  • anon says:

    Don’t like her at all but I wonder if Nadine Dorries had anything to do with this, following her interesting outburst about it on Twitter the other day. Raises all sorts of questions if so, of course.

  • c says:

    I would much, much rather this extra money had been given to the likes of WNO, Glyndebourne Touring and Britten Sinfonia, who inexplicably lost funding despite serving areas without much access to opera or classical music. Credit to ENO for their determined PR campaign against this – let’s hope they can put the same energy into reform.

    • LEON says:

      And let’s hope that ENO also campaign as vociferously for others in the arts who have lost, and may in future lose financial support.

  • T.G says:

    How is this an ACE climbdown?
    ENO were offered 17 million over 3 years. They have been offered 11.5 million this year. You don’t need a calculator to see where this is going.

  • Opera lover, says:

    Why the picture of that awful Wagner with the abysmal Matthew Rose? Can’t expect people to support an opera company who hire such awful singers.