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John Berry steps down from ENO

English National Opera's controversial artistic director resigns

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John Berry

English National Opera announced today that its artistic director John Berry — an inspiration to some, a demon headmaster to others, and seen by practically everyone as a man of defiantly uncommercial instincts — is stepping down from his role after 20 years with the company.

"My work is done", said Berry in a resignation statement whose wording suggests an immediate clearing of his desk. "After eight seasons leading the company artistically, I am looking forward to spending the summer deciding on my next role. I look forward to remaining involved with ENO in the future, as an audience member and supporter."

Speaking on behalf of the board, acting chairman Harry Brunjes said that Berry "has helped build ENO a UK-wide and international reputation for excellent dramatic opera that makes us unique — introducing directors from other art forms to the world of opera. [...] I would like to thank John for helping us stabilise the company as we continue to build a sustainable and fiscally sound organisation."

Artistic planning at ENO will continue under the present team working closely with the Board's Artistic Committee headed up by Anthony Whitworth-Jones. There is no word yet as to whether Berry will be replaced.

Sir Vernon Ellis, ENO's president, wished John Berry well for the future. "We are very confident that the artistic team will maintain ENO's high standards of excellence and entertainment quality going forward. We are looking forward to the new season and our new Music Director, Mark Wigglesworth, joining us. Mark has already been involved in the planning for future seasons."

Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England, added that "throughout his time at ENO he has demonstrated a strong commitment to keeping opera at the cutting edge of cultural production in the UK. [...] We'll continue to work closely with ENO as they develop their business model and plans to bring excellent and exciting work to broader audiences."

So: was he pushed or did he jump? That's one for the gossip columnists. What's certain is that the financially challenged ENO is likely to enter a more conservative era from now on, at least in the short term, as it pursues its quest to balance its books.