The English National Opera
An Opera For The People
The ENO’s performance space is not called the Coliseum for nothing. Built in 1898 on the principle that it would be a space for all kinds of entertainment, for people from all walks of life it is even fronted by a gladiatorial chariot. Today the ENO performs to 234,368 people a year and reaches over a million through cinema and radio broadcasts.
The English National Opera believes that world-class opera should be available to everyone.
As the ‘people’s opera’, one of the unique aspects of the ENO is that the opera from whatever provenance, is sung in English in order to create direct connections between the production and the audience. Combined with a range of affordable ticket prices, this makes going to the opera in London not just possible, but probable.
With over 350 full-time staff, 1,500 singers, actors, musicians and technicians employed across the season, the ENO not only stages groundbreaking productions but engages actively in community outreach work. The ENO’s “Opera Squad” programme brings the magic of opera to young people around the country who would not normally be exposed and is active in providing training and artistic mentoring to young singers.
With an annual budget of just over £40 million, the ENO ensures that 23% of seats to every show are available for £20 or under: Thousands of ticketsare given to schoolchildren, community groups and students. Although a charity, the ENO manages to create a small surplus every year.
Under new leadership, it is also shaking up its programming, increasing the number of productions staged every year, growing its talent, and increasing its reach.
Artistic Director, ENO
Which is your desert island disk opera?
Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus
Why is it important for young people to be exposed to/learn about opera?
So much of the emotional and physical violence in the world is about the repression of human emotion: rage is depression spread thin. The right song on the radio can transform our emotions – lighten us, move us, release us. It feels essential to immerse children in music of the highest possible quality, providing them with a life-long gift of self-expression and self-care that gives back to the world in turn.
What is the most frustrating thing about your job?
The elitism that people mistakenly associate with opera. From our mother’s heartbeat in the womb, to the lullaby in the crib, the teenage dance floor, the wedding march, to the funereal requiem: music is for everyone. It is a truly universal language.
What do you see as the biggest challenge to the future of opera?
Expanding the canon with new works that broaden the reach and definition of our art form. We need new music in new styles that sing our new stories, reflecting the increasing speed of our desk-top minds and also carving out more stillness, perhaps more sacred than ever before. Of course, we must also give agency to new, diverse voices to interpret the existing canon so that the cry of Carmen, Violetta, Isolde and Eurydice can be heard anew. Often the familiar, pretty and polite are rewarded over the relevant, reflective and insightful.
How can we make opera more relevant and accessible to a broader audience?
I think there are a number of different streams of action that must be supported. New work and relevant remakes of the classics are an important step. Period costumes and sets alone will not inspire the next generation of audiences. People want to see their community reflected in art, and we must continue to develop and support diversity both onstage and off. I will keep ticket prices as low as possible. In an ideal world, I would like all under 18’s to be able to come and try opera for free and I would like the funding to help bus in people who cannot easily reach our venue.
I would like to establish a digital platform to connect opera companies all around the globe, with a vast online library of every past and present opera production. Imagine being able to click online for free and compare ten different Figaro productions, ten different Violettas – or that year’s line up of world premieres.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Curiosity, and the plans around my first fully-programmed ENO season in 18/19.