OPINION - Opera is back but the ENO is clearly on its knees

 (Daniel Hambury)
(Daniel Hambury)

So this is what “a re-imagined artistic and business model” looks like at London’s second opera house, the ENO: a programme featuring the company’s best-loved hits and no Wagner.

La Traviata, Iolanthe and Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of The Barber of Seville will all feature in next season’s nine operas on the basis, presumably, that you really can’t avoid making money on them. The Ring Cycle now looks more like a semi-circle now that the bit featuring Siegfried has been put on hold. That’s what happens when the Arts Council leaves the company in limbo after slashing its funding.

Or, as the ENO announced: “Following a difficult six months for the company beginning with the Arts Council’s removal of its National Portfolio status and a delay in the confirmation of future funding, the ENO returns with an opera season showcasing the work the company is most renowned for.”

Mind you, the company has a disarming ability to get even failsafe operas wrong: I vividly remember one La Traviata where Violetta was inaudible.

The Arts Council has invited the ENO to apply for £24m over three years from 2024 to support its plans for that “reimagined artistic and business model with a primary base out of London, whilst continuing to own, manage and put on work at the London Coliseum”.

So it has to leave London while continuing to stage productions at the Coliseum. Note to the Council’s boss, Darren Henley — this isn’t how you retain talent. Among the places under consideration for relocation are Hull. I yield to no one in my affection for Hull — I have cousins there — but really?

This is squarely a result of the Arts Council’s mad exercise in shifting funding away from the capital to other parts of England.

So the ENO loses its base while funds go to the Blackpool Illuminations. Can the panjandrums of the Arts Council not see how shaming it is for London now to have only one proper opera house? The Royal Opera is fabulous, but it used to be given a run for its money by the nippy, sometimes off-beat, always affordable ENO. No longer, not even with the wretched The Handmaid’s Tale on the programme.

Consider this: Berlin has three opera companies. London now has one and a half. How does that make us look?