The rigmarole about English National Opera’s finances continues. The board seems to be incapable to bring anything of value to the table since their only solution to the brutal fiscal realities is to scale down ambition and erode standards of performance.
The stories of the folding of New York City Opera and the current slow death of Scottish Opera teach us one main lesson. If you scale back activity you become so irrelevant that nobody cares if you survive or not.
ENO needs people in charge that have imagination for programming and a flair for fundraising. Yesterday’s update from Cressida Pollock the CEO of the company. In response to the current troubles and the all out assault her management has received in the press and social media was like a speech by Margaret Thatcher when she was selling off the family silver in the 80s. She presents her position as if the whim of the gormless Arts Council England is the word of God and must be adhered to. This slavish reliance to ACE is part of the historic issues they have to deal with.
How about ENO grows a pair and instead of trying to whore itself to a cretinous ACE they do all they can to prove them wrong. The only way out of trouble is to remind everyone what a vital service the company offers when at its best and to properly fight for survival. But reading between the lines of Pollock’s carefully worded statement she doesn’t believe in her own product very much. Her tone verging on the utterly defeated and going through the motions.
They could try to perform more alongside with cutting production costs with reviving many classic productions that haven’t been staged since John Berry took over. But the implication is that the Board don’t believe that they will take enough at the box office to make it worth a try. And of course with that lack of faith in their own product they will find it much more difficult to attract funding from benefactors as they wouldn’t want to be associated with a sinking ship.
Instead they ruin their permanent Chorus by making their jobs essentially freelance. If they want to call themselves a national opera company they should shout out loud and clear why they are different and worth surviving. Not just retreat into a cave and await slow death. Nobody in the arts is having a great time right now but we all start from one basic tenet we believe in our product and advocate with the loudest voice why the arts are important to the UK. Being visible in that live discourse is important and opera companies seem all too happy to live in their parochial bubble. Be part of the wider conversation on the vital contribution ENO makes or can make to British life not just cling to the purse strings of ACE. The breast feeding phase has passed it’s time to start walking.
Let’s all support the Chorus of ENO in their struggle against this myopic management and hope there is a way out of the current mess. We do need this ensemble to survive and to offer hours of joy to anyone willing to listen.