(Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)
Ashutosh Khandekar - Editor
From the current issue of Opera Now
Anybody reading the arts headlines in the UK over the past few months would be forgiven for imagining that opera in London is in a state of meltdown. Boardroom bust-ups and catastrophic funding cuts at English National Opera, and the invasion of Germanic conceptualists at Covent Garden are just some of the concerns that have been aired by the capital’s jittery operaphiles.
The funding cuts at ENO are particularly puzzling, and haven’t really been fully explained. Is the Arts Council penalising ENO for its plans to stage musicals with the aid of commercial West End producers? Or is there, as many suspect, some sort of personal animosity at the root of it all, dating back to the time when the current Arts Council head, Peter Bazalgette, was the chair of ENO? Taking away a third of the public subsidy from a major national arts institution is unprecedented in the UK, especially one that appears to fulfill its public remit far better than many.
English National Opera is a comparatively avid commissioner of large-scale new work, is fearless in taking risks with repertoire and acts as a genuine springboard for national talent. The shows at the Coliseum can be rather hit and miss, but its failures are no more marked that those of the Royal Opera House, whose Arts Council subsidy now stands at more than double that of its neighbour, in spite of its generally conservative programming and high ticket prices.
When ENO is at its best, there are few companies to touch the quality of its music-making and the sheer theatrical panache of its tightly knit house ensemble. It is ironic that in the very week that a doom-laden letter was leaked in the press from the company’s former chairman, Martyn Rose, roundly criticising artistic director John Berry, ENO received an unequivocal ovation from a packed audience at the opening night of its superb production of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg.
The story of Wagner’s opera concerns a society in which hidebound tradition stands rigid and eventually breaks down when it is confronted by a new spirit of creative innovation and openness. At the same time, the work speaks of the importance of culture providing society with a sense of cohesion and identity for every individual. All these qualities – creative renewal, cultural continuity and access for all – have been at the heart of ENO’s mission for more than eight decades. It would be a crying shame if the company and what it stands for were to be dismantled overnight as a result of petty in-fighting behind boardroom doors.
Opera Now is available as an interactive digital magazine from pocketmags.com, iTunes and GooglePlay – read on your iPad, iPhone, Android device, Kindle Fire or computer. App FREE, single issues £3.99