Opera houses tell ACE: Get a strategy

Opera houses tell ACE: Get a strategy


norman lebrecht

January 24, 2023

The leading opera houses have issued this challenge to the Arts Council:

We call on Arts Council England and Darren Henley, Arts Council England Chief Executive, to develop an opera strategy, in conversation with audiences and our colleagues across the industry – Royal Opera House, Opera North , English National Opera, English Touring Opera and Welsh National Opera Cenedlaethol Cymru .


  • Michael says:

    The Arts Council should be (!) embarrassed that no such strategy seems to exist and ashamed that it took these opera companies to point out this lacuna to them! Given the barely-concealed dislike – bordering on prejudice – about opera that seems endemic in the organisation, can we have a full disclosure of the knowledge of, and experience in, opera of those preparing the consultation and resulting strategy?

    Or sack the lot of them and start again!

  • Jon H says:

    Or let them get on with privitizing. But making them think they might get something, then saying no – it’s putting them in a risky position. And maybe private funding isn’t a popular idea here, but nobody wants to lose the English National Opera. [And there’s plenty of money in London.]

  • PS says:

    Singing all those operas in English… was that based on industry consultation, audience insight, and data?

  • GCMP says:

    These companies should develop their own vision and “deliver” a combined statement to ACE. It may be the only hope.

  • bare truth says:

    Nonsense. The UK has Shakespeare, its cultural standing is secured for all eternity thanks to the Bard alone. Opera is dead. Crying won’t help, praying will do no good.

    Go to the Globe and watch a work of art that is more modern today than 450 years ago. Forget about opera and its derelict language and music.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Glyndebourne prominent in the image, but absent from NL’s editorial.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Those who can do, those who can’t work at ACE.

  • Blaenboy says:

    They should have started there; weeks too late. Suggests that they too are Balkanised.

    I am struck by a strategy aimed at levelling up is going to produce less opera outside of London as well as less within. Madness.

  • Nick2 says:

    Why leave it to the incompetent ACE? Why don’t the companies themselves draw up their own draft strategy for annual opera provision?

  • Antwerp Smerle says:

    This is a sensible, timely and brave initiative. Brave because it’s unlikely that a well-formed strategy will be fully aligned with the aims of all the companies who are making this request.

    Let’s hope that ACE has the panache needed to pick up this gauntlet, and the wisdom to assign the task to a suitably qualified, talented and visionary team.

  • Elsie says:

    You know we’ve been here before. So it’s ironic to see Glyndebourne moaning when they were partly instrumental in destroying the great Kent Opera all those years ago – remember their productions with Roger Norrington and Nicholas Hytner? And ENO as then Sadlers Wells gobbling up the old Carl Rosa with a substantial touring programme only to shut this down over time. Memories are short.

  • Kenneth Griffin says:

    I see that these Boards jointly call for ACE to develop an opera strategy with no consideration for available funding. So, such a strategy would be a mere pipe dream.

    And “the UK’s cultural standing in the world” isn’t a prime goal of ACE is it? More, the British Council?

    • Antwerp Smerle says:

      The statement by the opera companies says that the strategy should be based on data. One such datum would be the level of funding available.

      A really well-formed strategy would probably address three scenarios:
      (i) funding rises in line with inflation;
      (ii) funding has to be frozen or reduced because the economy weakens;
      (iii) funding rises faster than inflation, for example because government provides more incentive for private-sector funding.

  • Manilla says:

    Sounds like yet another desperate weak tactic which Stuart Murphy likely held all at gunpoint to sign in order to cover his utter failure with all things ENO. The ACE strategy is clear and fair, quite frankly: support organizations which cultivate maximum audiences for the venues in which they produce. NT, yes. RSC. Yes. ROH, Yes, Glyndebourne at home, yes. Glyndebourne, WNO on Tour, even ON on Tour…Not their best numbers, rather small audiences on tour any spreadsheet will show. The opera audience is shrinking as the Callas generation now age out and stream online. Opera is not, however, radically evolving, like theatre and music theatre, to reflect modern times and modern minds. Most new works EMPTY the ROH, ENO and even EU houses. Every opera house knows this. New operas are a hard sell, even with great reviews. People think opera is The 12 Classics: frilly skirts and big dresses and dying women and songs they can hum before they arrive. Most UK houses reinforce this grand opera image, year by year, summer house by summer house. Hence the ACE is pushing for smaller operas in more surprising spaces, for new surprising audiences to discover its fresh magic. Can we truly be surprised that the funding IS going more and more private for such a niche art form? Are we denying our love of opera is niche? Come now, let’s be mature about this. I’m not saying its ideal, but the UK is clearly leaning towards the American funding model. So be it. Unless we are in government, we are not changing global economic trends. Why fight what we cannot control? Art for profit is how they see it now. Okay. So, how do we get what we want longterm? I would suggest all of our focus turn to the BACKWARDS to the affect the change we want: let’s put all of this fight and effort into funding music arts education back into the HANDS of every child across the UK from age 5 to 18. We need our children being offered FREE instruments, FREE music lessons, choirs to join, school orchestras, and heatre arts at each school, alongside sports. We have to raise a generation again that values the creative arts. Else Science can tell us all, the ongoing decline is inevitable. Let’s just drop ENO already: waste of our time. It’s dead. Wipe that tear away. It’s sad but also healthy. Evolution. Survival of the fittest. Opera needs a rebirth in the UK and globally: the ACE might not do or say it perfectly, but Serota’s POINT is very wise. He is no fool. He has achieved MANY great things in our cultural landscape. The art form must reinvent itself, full stop. Let’s focus on THE FUTURE. Arts Education across the UK. Fund that, ACE.