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The Lebrecht Weekly


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

ENO’s death by 1,000 cuts

By Norman Lebrecht / February 28, 2007

The latest job cuts at English National Opera are neither a solution nor a bottom line but a stop-gap in a never-ending attritional process at an institution that does not know where it is heading. Loretta Tomasi, the managing director, announced on Friday that she needs to trim the workforce by ten percent, or 45 jobs. It is hard to see how she can shrink the orchestra any further – there are only eight first violins left on the books – or redress a morale droop that has been exacerbated by insensitive middle-managers. The state of crisis is unabated.

The trouble lies, as ever, in a lack of clarity and direction. I gather that Tomasi and artistic director John Berry put up a budget for next season of £32 million while showing only £30.5 million in projected revenue. Asked by a board member how they proposed to bridge the gap, they said: raise ticket prices. And if the public resist? The silence was deafening. Tomasi, to her credit, admits that after two Arts Council bailouts worth £20 million no public lifebelt will ever be thrown ENO’s way again.

Despite the capture of an exciting young music director in Ed Gardner and a general uplift in production standards, ENO is weighed down by makeshift management and a top-heavy board that contributes more by way of self-interest than expertise or cash. The hole in its heart is a refusal to reconsider archaic practices. A newcomer who suggested that it might no longer be necessary to sing all operas in English when the words are flashed up in surtitles above the stage was told that if he didn’t like opera in English he should leave by the door through which he had just entered.

The chairman, Vernon Ellis, acknowledges the need for reforms. Whether he can write a new blueprint before the Treasury axe falls this summer seems unlikely given the latest decision at the Coliseum to proceed timidly with death by small cuts.


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



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