English National Opera fights ‘insane’ move from London to Manchester

The Cunning Little Vixen at the English National Opera London Coliseum; (Clive Barda/ArenaPAL)
The Cunning Little Vixen at the English National Opera London Coliseum; (Clive Barda/ArenaPAL)

The boss of the English National Opera has hit out at a plan which would force it to move out of London and have its funding cut.

It comes after the Arts Council England said it would cut the company's £12.6m annual grant from 2023 and instead give it only £17m over three years if it relocates out of the capital, possibly to Manchester.

The ENO’s chief executive, Stuart Murphy, told the BBC that the Arts Council plan was “insane and absurd” and said it simply was not doable.

“We spoke to people that the Arts Council hadn't bothered to speak to in Manchester, from across the opera world, and our staff - and it's just not doable,” he said.

“These are people who've been in the company for 40 years. It takes a long time to train to be an opera singer. We can't just close down in one area and start in another.”

He said that the plan had come as a massive shock to staff at the famous cultural institution because it had been doing everything the Arts Council had asked.

“It came as a massive surprise to us because our report card from the Arts Council says we're doing an amazing job,” he told the broadcaster.

“It reminds us that one in seven of our audience are under 35, that a fifth of our singers are ethnically diverse, that our average ticket price is a quarter of that of a normal opera house and we give free tickets to under-21s.

“And we do these amazing things like ENO Breathe with the NHS that happen right across the country.

“So we've kind of done everything that was asked of us and more, even by the Arts Council's admission.”

The ENO, currently based in the London Coliseum, is now fighting the plans and backing a petition set up by opera singer Sir Bryn Terfel, which has more than 17,000 signatures.

The ENO is one of the capital’s two opera houses, alongside the Royal Opera House.

An Arts Council spokesperson said: “We require English National Opera to relocate the core of their work to another part of England if they wish to continue to receive regular public funding from us.

"We raised Manchester as an option and English National Opera initially received that idea positively.

“English National Opera's future is in their hands - at this early stage we have announced our funding plans for the next three years, and now we hope to engage in detailed planning with them.

“This would involve English National Opera reshaping their business model and finding a suitable location outside of London."