Council Throws Last-minute Lifeline to Troubled ENODate: 23 January 2003
English National Opera was thrown a lifeline last night when the Arts Council rushed through a decision to bail out the beleaguered company. Though exact figures have not been released, ENO will undergo a Council-led "stabilisation process" to guard against its estimated £1.2 million deficit and stave off further redundancies.
The current crisis kicked off last week when the ENO informed choristers that a third of them would be laid off. On Friday, the outraged chorus met and passed a vote of no confidence in ENO management while their union, Equity, penned a letter urging Arts Council intervention. On Monday, the choristers staged their own form of protest by refusing to sing during a publicly attended working rehearsal of the current production of Khovanshchina, which receives its premiere tonight (23 January 2003).
Circumstances at ENO have been steadily worsening since last summer. Executive director Nicholas Payne resigned in early July 2002, after little more than a year in the job. Two weeks later, industry newspaper The Stage prompted further intense speculation when it reported that the company was considering a massive downsizing, to include shutting down for 16 months, making hundreds of staff redundancies and setting up as a part-time only company (See The Goss, 25 Jul 2002).
Major refurbishment, costing in the region of £41 million, has already begun on ENO's home, the London Coliseum, which will close in the second half of this year and will not reopen until at least the first quarter of 2004. The chorus had already agreed to having their numbers cut from 68 to 60 during the company's peripatetic period of transition, while members of the orchestra have been bracing themselves for cuts of their own.
The Arts Council met on Tuesday to discuss the ENO job cuts, which have been drawing headlines in the national press. With uncharacteristic speed, they pushed through their decision within 24 hours.
Speaking about the rescue package, details of which have yet to be finalised, ENO chairman Martin Smith said: "Our strategy is far-reaching, and I do not underestimate the scale of the task ahead. However, my board and I firmly believe that we, with the company, will be in a position to deliver a revitalised, artistically vibrant and financially sound company to the restored Coliseum in 2004."
- by Terri Paddock