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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

English National Opera Chairman Resigns

By Norman Lebrecht / December 21, 2005

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The crisis at English National Opera accelerated today with the resignation of its chairman, Martin Smith.

Martin Smith's resignation today as chairman of English National Opera comes a week too late and is far too little to save the company from a backlash of public condemnation and political interference that threatens its survival.

Smith was responsible for sacking the experienced Nicholas Payne three years ago on flimsy grounds and replacing him with Sean Doran, an Irish festival director working in Australia. When Doran's unsuitability became an embarrassment, he was replaced last month by two insiders, Loretta Tomasi and John Berry, without the jobs being advertised or more qualified candidates approached. Smith was warned by the Arts Council that this violated public procedures. He went ahead regardless and has now paid the price.

The buck, however, does not stop here. Smith, who massaged facts and refused to face questions, dodged responsibility to the last. In today's statement, he insisted that his resignation was precipitated by 'a campaign against me', which made it impossible for him to 'serve the best interests of ENO'. The reality is that he lost the confidence of the company, was attacked by leading artists and attracted a savage motion in the House of Commons which together made his position untenable.

He should have resigned at a board meeting last week. His determination to hang on has put ENO's next tranche of public 'stabilisation' funding in doubt and undermined the chance of his interim successor, management consultant Vernon Ellis, to stem the tide of opprobrium. Ellis has agreed to work with the Arts Council to find a permanent chairman but the running of ENO is in the hands of two individuals improperly appointed by Smith and the incoming music director, Oleg Caetani, is the contentious choice of the discredited Doran. Until these posts are sorted out ENO cannot return to normality.

MPs, meanwhile, are demanding a root and branch assessment of whether London needs a second opera company within a stone's throw of Covent Garden, and whether the vast Coliseum can ever attract sufficient audiences to justify public funding. Thanks to Smith's blunderin efforts, the sceptics are jubuilantly in the ascendant

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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