The opera boom the Arts Council chooses to ignore

The opera boom the Arts Council chooses to ignore


norman lebrecht

February 11, 2023

The Nevill Holt Festival in Leicestershire will put on its tenth season this summer. Audiences have grown at a rate of 15% a year. This year they will stage a double bill of Pagliacci and Gianni Schicchi in May-June followed by and Rossini’s La Cenerentola in June-July.

Not a penny from the Arts Council. No dialogue either.

Grange Park Opera in Surrey has rolled out its summer plans:

Tristan & Isolde Wagner 8 June – 9 July 2023

Tosca Puccini 10 June – 5 July 2023

Werther Massenet 17 June – 12 July 2023

Completely without public funding.

The Grange Festival in West Horsley has Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice’ and Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’ along with Cosi fan tutte and Queen of Spades.

Longborough in Gloucestershire has Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Purcell’s Faerie Queen and Monteverdi’s L’orfeo.

There is also a full summer at unsubsidised Glyndebourne.

And the ACE has the temerity to assert that opera is ‘not a growth market’.

What planet do they inhabit?


  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Interest in opera has been growing exponentially all over Europe these past decades and only left-leaning NGOs choose to ignore the fact as it doesn’t fit their prejudiced view of what they consider elitist art forms. Long life to the independents; may they continue to prosper.

  • crb85 says:

    And Opera Holland Park have Rigoletto, Hansel and Gretel, Boheme, Ruddigore and a world premiere – Itch – by Jonathan Dove

  • Grantium user says:

    The root of the problem is Arts Council Director of Music Claire Mera Nelson. She is on record as being anti-organisations with big salary bills (the ones which actually employ their musicians), she’s gotten as convinced as Liz Truss of her own rightness, and she’s fundamentally a bit thick. A toxic combination if you’re ENO. If she isn’t removed from office for the incompetence she’s shown in this funding round the rot will most probably spread.

  • Peter Geall says:

    A reminder that there are still plenty of wealthy people in the UK (and from overseas visiting for events like this). It’s the far greater number feeling the pinch who will desperately miss ENO’s bargain prices and ama ing deals for young people.

  • Helen says:

    But we all know it’s not really about “growth markets”, don’t we?

    It’s about being seen to attack a culture which is regarded as white and European.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Have these companies actually applied for grants from ACE?

    • IC225 says:

      Yes. Glyndebourne for many years applied for and received ACE subsidy for an annual touring programme designed to take its work, at affordable prices, to audiences in regional towns across England.

      It was cut without warning in the last round of ACE funding announcements, forcing Glyndebourne to axe the entire tour.

      The other companies – some have, with no success. Some haven’t, preferring not to get used to the arbitrary and inconsistent artistic demands and utter unreliablility of the ACE’s funding regime, and it’s difficult not to sympathise.

      • Maria says:

        But most can’t afford to go to many of these country house type outlets. You simply have to be rich, and plenty are rich in the UK. Not just the ticket prices, but all the add on of getting there and staying somewhere.

  • Breve says:

    About time the Arts Council was taken behind the bike sheds and put out of its misery.

  • Malatesta says:

    This all goes to show how badly run ENO is with now nearly £12 Million subsidy to produce a four month season with a handful of productions. The chorus are not on full-time contracts and the orchestra is often employed elsewhere. Seat prices are far too high and everything completely London based. The theatre is paid for for two-thirds of the year by outside rentals. And still Dr Brunjes and his cohorts are permitted to continue. The performers deserve much better.

    • IC225 says:

      “A four month season with a handful of productions”. What planet are you living on? It’s a September to May season with ten productions (including two substantial UK premieres). It’s literally the second longest and biggest season of any UK opera company.

  • AndyB says:

    The popularity of attending an opera performance in the UK has grown steadily over a number of years partly due to some great work by festivals and touring companies which offer ambitious repertoire. That this is not acknowledged and opera is described still as an elitist art form whenever it comes to cutting the subsidies and budgets of the national companies is shocking.
    What can we expect when a Labour politician is criticized for attending the opera at Glyndebourne by a Conservative Minister in the parliament session? Never mind that several of his Conservative colleagues or former ministers happily attend Bayreuth together without the said Minister’s criticism!
    The issue clearly begins right at the top .
    How good it would be for government of whatever political persuasion to realise that opera is for the enrichment of everyone. and is worth supporting.
    Decades on from the pioneering work and contribution of folks such as Norman Platt, founder of Kent Opera , which sadly eventually lost its grant , but did some outstanding work bringing opera to all sorts of venues and the public for years, the message clearly hasn’t be absorbed.

    • Helen says:

      Dominic Raab’s comment is irrelevant. The problem is a deep rooted, cynical, philistine attitude to opera which transcends party politics. To many people it’s the butt of jokes and tired old cliches.

      The right is generally suspicious of opera and doesn’t understand the true purpose of subsidy, and the left regards it as elitist, Angela Rayner’s interest notwithstanding.

      Opera is caught between a rock and a hard place. The BBC, which is in a good position to change things, doesn’t seem to be interested, despite its founding duty to educate.

    • IC225 says:

      Alas, the rot set in back in 1997, when we moved from having a Prime Minister who revered Joan Sutherland to one who hung out with Oasis and joked about classical music being for the old.

  • G K says:

    The Grange festival is in Hants. Grange pk is at West Horsley Place. Both very different.

  • Stephen Lawrence says:

    I don’t know whether this article really does apply only to the richer half of society, but it could be that for instance people are deciding to go to hear (or do) something local rather than spending money on flying somewhere else…

  • Michael Smith says:

    So, it’s growing without ACE support; why should the taxpayer fund it?

    • Sarichan says:

      Yes. If it’s growing, then there’s nothing to fear, including anything that happens to ENO . Word will spread among audiences who demand it, and newcomers who try it – and more and more they’ll be prepared to pay for it.

  • Mark Pemberton says:

    But this is exactly the point. The Arts Council believes that the country house opera companies can do the heavy lifting in the South, without public subsidy, while Opera North can service the North.