This is not a victory for English National Opera

This is not a victory for English National Opera


norman lebrecht

January 17, 2023

There has been a certain amount of private gloating at ENO about overturning the Arts Council England decision to evict them from London this season. Instead, they have been given £11.46m of National Lottery funding to see them through the next season.

But just for one season.

Lottery funding is a one-off. It is not the same as regular ACE subsidy. Rather, it’s a face-saving device to buy the ACE a little time before it reverts to removing ENO from London.

ENO maintains in its statement that it does not know why it has to go.

ACE insiders say that every year over the past seven ENO has been told by the ACE that it is living on borrowed time. Season after season it has played to little over 50 percent capacity in the London Coliseum – and that is despite wads of tickets being offered at £5 a head to the deserving young, or given away altogether for free.

The ACE has told ENO its business model no longer works. ENO has yet to come up with a replacement model. Unless it does, very fast, this is still curtains for ENO.

Meanwhile, ENO is already blaming ACE that ‘that our plans for the season ahead will inevitably have to change.’

What really needs to change is the ENO board.


  • Paul Dawson says:

    It’s not often that I am in full agreement with NL, but this is one of those rare occasions.

    Am I being too old and out-of-touch in simply seeking a 21st Century reversion to Lillian Bayliss’s original vision?

  • Elsie says:

    Your comment about the Board having to go is spot on. Singers, the chorus, the orchestra and the technical team will all be made redundant unless they remove Dr Brunjes and his cohort of mad mullahs. Get back to running a proper season with top prices under £100 and a sense of continuity and excitement. First nights should be for the performance not for the good Doctor to preen himself kow-towing to minor celebrities in the foyer.

    • ENOchorus says:

      Look how well ENB’s Christmas Season has done at the Coli with packed houses, top price under £100 and no gimmicks. ENO should learn from them.

  • Cliveey says:

    Seems to me they are trying hard to adapt to a changing world while retaining their distinctive style.

  • Nicholas says:

    The future new Ring Cycle at the Met is uncertain due to ENO budget cuts according to OperaWire headline.

    • Lindales says:

      Cancelled by the Met already because Valkyrie was a joke. Can Jones please also retire with grace? Past his prime. Embarrassing now. Next.

  • Larissa says:

    Well said, NL. This is Stuart Murphy and little Harry Brunjes trying to save face, but actually just postponing the inevitable for a year – when Murphy will thankfully disappear forever, if we are lucky. The entire board must change, too. Will the company actually survive? It’s horrifying to think both inept, tiny minded men will hire the new team tasked with any such transformation. I think the ACE did the right thing to finally force the company to face facts: their business model, and venue, do not work for them in central London. How sad the ACE did not force Brunjes out years ago when it was clear he had no idea what he was doing.

  • Richard Suart says:

    As some day it may happen that a critic’s found unsound,
    I’ve made a little list – a one man only list.
    His legendary bias is the worst for miles around,
    And he never would be missed – I think you get the gist.
    He takes the moral high ground but the bar is set quite low,
    His website is the laughing stock of those who’re in the know.
    He has his little pet hates, and dear ENO is one,
    But his ill-informed pronouncements there, we really ought to shun.
    It’s people, jobs, careers at stake, this point you’ve clearly missed,
    Ko-Ko needs to slap your wrist – and your website should be dissed.

    I should declare an interest, as this website likes that – ENO Ko-Ko since 1988, and still in post. Also devoted to, and great admirer of my esteemed colleagues.

    • Elsie says:

      In 1988 when you started on your illustrious run as Ko-Ko, ENO was a year round operation with a summer break, and with well over two hundred performances and around twenty-five productions a year. Now it’s down to a virtual part-time operation with increasing insecurity for both performers and staff. ACE money, isn’t just there to provide you with a living, good as that is. Moaning about Norman won’t get you anywhere either. Using your and your colleagues influence to get proper senior management in place and a board to match will do you much more good in the long run. Otherwise you won’t be left with anyone to listen to your little list.

    • Tired Norfolk says:

      An alright rhyme has nothing to do with the way an opera company should be run, why on earth do you have the moral high ground on this?

  • C_Porumbescu says:

    Quick note to say that a little over 50% of capacity at the Coliseum – the West End’s largest single theatre – would represent something like 100% capacity at the National Theatre, the Barbican Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and a near sell-out for a West End performance of Hamilton or The Phantom of the Opera. I’m not calling this a lie or a damned lie (though it would be interesting to know the source given that the Coliseum was closed for most of 2020 and much of 2021), but there are statistics and there are statistics. If the ACE is now justifying national cultural policy on the basis of “first one to sell all the seats wins” that seems a fairly unambiguous signal that it has lost any moral authority to control public art subsidy.

    And that’s before we even get on to the damage caused to regional music and opera by the cuts to (among others) Britten Sinfonia, Psappha, Glyndebourne on Tour and WNO. Possibly we’re hearing from different ACE insiders; the story I’ve heard is of a vicious institutionalised resentment towards the very existence of opera companies and orchestras. The recent decisions seem to bear this out. Sure, heads need to roll in all sorts of places but whatever their failings (and Murphy is already on his way out at St Martin’s Lane) the ENO top team can only fuck up one company. The ACE is fucking up the whole national arts ecology and the ACE is where the guillotine needs to fall most bloodily and most swiftly – before these ideologically-driven blunderers can do any more damage.

  • John says:

    I have recently seen Opera North’s three Spring 2023 productions. Totally superb in every respect – with seats reasonably priced, yet much lower “subsidy” per performance than ENO. I met several people there who, like me, rarely visit ENO as it’s cheaper to travel to Leeds and stay the night than go to the Coliseum.