Opera should be performed in car parks and pubs to survive, says Arts Council boss

14 November 2022, 09:04

Opera should be performed in car parks in order to survive, according to the Arts Council chief
Opera should be performed in car parks in order to survive, according to the Arts Council chief. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Operas should be performed in car parks and pubs in order to survive, the boss of the Arts Council has said amid a growing row over the removal of funding from the English National Opera (ENO).

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In plans announced last Friday, Arts Council England (ACE) said it was removing the company from its grant portfolio, resulting in a funding cut of £12.6 million each year from 2023 - meaning the ENO is set to lose around a third of its income.

Instead, proposed plans suggested the ENO was set to receive a £17 million grant over three years - but only if it relocates outside of London, with a move to Manchester being suggested.

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Darren Henley has admitted the decision "seems stark", saying: "Nothing can take away the pain of artists, performers, technical teams and audiences who love the company."

But he said the Council wanted to "support a bright, if different, future" for the company.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Henley said "there will always be a place for the grand opera currently staged" by various productions.

"The swelling overtures, glorious sets, rousing choruses and breath-taking arias create an overwhelming, eternal sense of awe," he said.

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But he added "a new generation of audiences is embracing opera and music theatre presented in new ways: opera in car parks, opera in pubs, opera on your tablet".

"Fresh thinking helps the art form reimagine itself and remain exciting and meaningful to future generations of audiences and artists," he said.

ACE has increased its support for "grassroots" organisations, including for an organisation called OperaUpClose, which puts on performances at a number of unusual venues such as warehouses and schools.

CEO of the English National Opera Stuart Murphy

A petition calling for ACE to reverse their funding decision for the ENO has reached more than 41,000 signatures.

Last week English National Opera boss Stuart Murphy said Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan was in "listening mode" as a result of the petition.

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"It was good, they were in listening mode," he said after a meeting with Ms Donelan and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay on Thursday, asking for the company's funding to be reinstated and its London base to be retained.

"She inherited this decision from the previous secretary of state, Nadine Dorries.

"I thought it was a good meeting, we left saying that we hope we can meet again in a fortnight.

The Tales of Hoffmann is performed by the ENO
The Tales of Hoffmann is performed by the ENO. Picture: Alamy

"She's got a massive brief, she's only a couple of weeks into the job so I was really aware of that and I thought it was a productive meeting.

"We made clear our ask that our funding is returned and the decision makes no sense."

United Ukrainian Ballet performs Giselle at London Coliseum, supported by the ENO and Birmingham Royal Ballet
United Ukrainian Ballet performs Giselle at London Coliseum, supported by the ENO and Birmingham Royal Ballet. Picture: Alamy

He said the petition showed there was "a huge strength of feeling which is broader than opera", and said the reversing the funding decision was "about clarity and honestly and good governance in public bodies".

"The Arts Council have said they really love what we do," he said.

"In the scorecard they gave us, we have over-served on every single thing they asked us to do, yet they're halving our budget and telling us to find another base.

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"If someone works for me and has hit all their targets, and I was delighted with them, I wouldn't tell them to move 200 miles away and cut their salary in half.

"So for me, this is about more than opera.

It's about clarity and honesty and good governance in public bodies, I think it's also about being respectful of 100 years of tradition of pioneering work."

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