Aaround the same time as I joined English National Opera as Music Director in 2015, a £5million cut to the Enterprise Arts Council grant sparked a heated debate on how to make up for this shortfall. Many of us argued that the loss of income could be absorbed by making creative changes that maintained the quality and quantity of operas performed.
ENO’s Board of Directors, however, followed the advice of McKinsey management consultants who believed that the easiest way to solve the problem was simply to play opera less often. The dramatic decrease in the number of operas produced, alongside a reduction in the contracts of many singers, was a choice that would always make it difficult to justify maintaining full-time public funding in the future. The idea that one could expect to receive the same amount of taxpayers’ money to do less work that required it was clearly problematic.
When the management of an arts organization gives the impression that they have no faith in the importance of the work they produce, it is not surprising that people come to negative conclusions about their identity and his value. Thousands of opera-goers had the foresight at the time to recognize the longer-term consequences of the changes and signed a petition to save ENO. Those who have taken this position are unlikely to be surprised by the decisions that Arts Council England published last week this meant that ENO would lose its base annual funding of £12.6 million.
The fact that this outcome was predicted does not make the reality any less heartbreaking or less dangerous to the country’s cultural landscape.
The opera is being pressed by those on the left who think it is elitist and those on the right who think it should not be supported by the government at all. The idea that it is glamorous and frivolous entertainment for the social and cultural elite may be a convenient stereotype, but for those who have experienced it, nothing could be further from the truth.
The vast majority of operas deal with subjects that are both real and relevant. Love and death, religion and sex, power, friendship and betrayal are fundamental concerns of the human condition and to hear them expressed through the elemental voices of music and theater is is making connections that we desperately need to maintain. Humanity has always needed stories. We thrive on them, we connect through them, we remember with them and learn from them. Visionary opera companies give us the opportunity to keep reinventing old themes in a contemporary way. ENO has sometimes been one of these companies, and can be so again if the opportunity arises.
ENO owns the London Coliseum, but how much money can be raised by selling the building is a question shrouded in a legal quagmire of Dickensian proportions. Nevertheless, assuming that the board considers its duty of care to be to the people of ENO and its public (recent history suggests this is a fairly significant assumption), it should not abdicate that responsibility by bowing to building easy business income opportunities. Instead, he is set to use the money from his sale to fund a new state-of-the-art space, specially designed for the exciting demands of what a 21st century opera company could mean for a capital as diverse and vibrant as London. . . I used to believe, perhaps rather sentimentally, in the value of ENO’s stay at the Colosseum, but landscapes change.
As magnificent as the building is, it is not as important as the work that takes place within its walls. A second opera house in London would thrive if – unlike the Colosseum – it was designed from the outset with its own identity in mind, one that is consistently relevant to its time, place and purpose – a space in which tradition and innovation come together and where creativity excellence would be a source of national pride.
The argument that ENO in its current form deserves government funding has been fought and seemingly lost, but that does not lessen the strength of the view that a world capital as large as London needs more than one company. full-time opera.
Would cities like Berlin, Paris and Vienna each have three opera houses if opera did not play a vital role in contemporary society? The loss of ENO is not just a loss for opera lovers in London, it is a loss for the artistic importance of the whole city, a city whose 9 million inhabitants want to remain proud of the role creative of their house on the international scene.
I have no doubt that the Royal Opera House is appalled at ENO’s current difficulties. There is hardly a singer in the world for whom working in his country’s “second home” has not been a vital step in his career, while the vast majority of audiences who discover opera start at the local level. . For decades, ENO has provided the roots that allow operatic achievement to flourish across the country. A gateway to opera which has always welcomed new singers, conductors, composers, directors, designers and technicians must remain open. Above all, there must be a first stop for all those who have not yet discovered the transformative power of opera.
What do we want our capital to look like? The government seems content with silence. Possibly the former culture secretary Nadine Dorries misheard his memoir and assumed that the C in ACE stood for “cancel” and not “advice”. But just because the government has embraced the race to the bottom concept so successfully when it comes to cabinet reshuffles doesn’t mean we shouldn’t accept a similar process inflicted on the whole country. We live in difficult times. We don’t have time to wait for the less difficult ones. There is no less money in the world, it has just been redistributed. And I believe that among the winners of our time, whether individuals or businesses, there are those who understand how essential creativity is to society and who can be encouraged to be part of our protection against the ignorance and myopia of our government. cultural vandalism.
I know firsthand that those who work at ENO are some of the most talented, inspiring and creative people an organization would be proud to employ. They have an irreplaceable combination of experience and expertise. It can’t be an option for this hard-earned level of art to be dissolved, nor for the public who embraced it with such passion and loyalty to be so dismissively denied and betrayed. Anyone who wants London to keep singing should say so now and take this opportunity to protect and promote the heart and soul of an artistic force that is changing lives for the better.