ENO’s music director: Leaving London is bad for everyone

ENO’s music director: Leaving London is bad for everyone


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2023

From an article by Martyn Brabbins in the Times today:

I grew up in a council estate in the Midlands, was a beneficiary of free school meals and know first-hand the enormous impact that access to quality artistic fare (as well as free instrumental music lessons) can have on a young person from such a background. I am the last person who would resist widening access to the arts. While absolutely none of us is against the idea of expanding the reach of great opera across the nation, without adequate funding and years of strategic planning for such a transition we risk not being able to deliver the quality or scale of performance we know any partner city would rightly expect…

If we are to grow and protect the incredible richness and diversity of arts in this country and truly “level up”, these priority areas should be given additional long-term funding to build and expand existing bases, and support local artists and musicians — not rob Peter to short-change Paul.

More here.


  • Shropshire says:

    Correction: Leaving London is the best thing any Londoner can do to themselves

    • Helen says:

      Negative comments like that only work if they include some element of wit or humour.

      Yours failed on both counts.

    • IC225 says:

      True, but not really the point here which is that for a major opera company such a relocation requires a lot of money and years of planning, which was not provided for in the recent half-baked ACE proposals.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Martyn is of course quite right. Not many in the stalls of the ROH or those about to enjoy their Fortnums Hampers on the manicured lawns of Glyndebourne this summer- who’ve had to endure ‘free school meals’ or who are currently (and usually forever) residing in Council Estates.

    • Robert says:

      Martyn may well have ventured onto Glyndebourne’s manicured lawns some years ago when I saw him conduct Don Giovanni, brilliantly. The excellent standing spaces there cost £15, and you can get into ROH performances for £6 (upper slips) or £25 (back of Amphitheatre). These tropes about F&M hampers are misleading: both institutions bend over backwards to be accessible and to spread the word via their excellent education outreach programmes.

  • Tim says:

    To paraphrase Mrs. Thatcher (a favorite around here I’m sure): The problem with dependence on arts council funding is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, but you get around that problem by regarding the money as your entitlement. You have it/we own it!!

  • John Colvin says:

    ACE is making poor use of its money by requiring ENO to relocate, without giving the company proper time to research, plan and implement such an unprecedented move. The truncated programme now published by ENO for 2023-2024 is just the first example of the loss that ACE is causing to the company and its audience.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    This ‘scheme’ cooked up by ACE fails scrutiny on one or two counts (at least). First as many have mentioned in various forums (fora?) there has apparently been a singular lack of forecasting and planning. Remember when considering moving a company the size of ENO, we are talking here about hundreds of peoples’ livelihoods, life-style choices, children’s schooling among many other facets of their lives.

    There is also the uncertainty of whether any projected move will actually work.

    To which end I remember at the start of Opera North’s residence in Leeds (English National Opera as it was at first, being a spin-off of ENO), many of the company travelled to Leeds and stayed Monday evening to Friday afternoon, then returned ‘home’ to their places in London or its environs. And this continued or two or three years, until it became more or less likely that the company was in Yorkshire to stay.

    As far as I understand this latest ‘ruse’ of ACE, no such eventuality is being considered – the company as an entity is being given a fait accompli – basically it seems, move to wherever (and the destination is still far from certain) or lose your job.

  • CRMH says:

    I heard this news on Radio 3 the other day, with no balancing statement from the Arts Council – so much for the impartiality of the BBC… ENO has been in ‘special measures’ for decades – Grey Gowrie declined to bail them out in the 1980s!

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    The education should start at home and in school. The professional input should be the end result, catering for interest and curiosity generated during one’s upbringing. Only that way can we expect to cater for an audience outside the London bubble (which, obviously, doesn’t interest vast swathes of our recent arrivals). Levelling up starts at home. There’s no point in taking a major opera company out of London and planting it in an area where little interest exists. The cost would be exorbitant, the return disappointing. Do the ground work then relocate, even if it takes a generation.

    • Barry says:

      Agree entirely. Interest in opera is not uniform across the country and it would take considerable amounts of time and investment to change that. To pretend otherwise is just wishful thinking.

      Unfortunately, the ENO decision was a political one designed to attract votes. I also suspect that it had more to do with London bashing and civic pride than increasing access to opera. An unwise relocation could easily become a massive millstone once the novelty has worn off.

      I doubt if any government would have the commitment to do what would be necessary.

      (And no, I’m not a Londoner.)

  • Robin I Morgan says:

    Having been a regular visitor to SW0/ENO since 1970, I weep when I see the destructive and vindictive attack on ENO by ACE. Mr Brabbins is spot on. I might mention I have just written to my MP about the iniquity of ACE.