English National Opera to receive £11m Lottery funding after grant cut

The English National Opera (ENO) is set to receive more than £11 million from the National Lottery for the next financial year after Arts Council England (ACE) announced funding cuts.

In plans announced in November, ACE said it was removing the opera company as a national portfolio organisation, resulting in a funding cut of £12.6 million each year from 2023. The grant equated to more than a third of the ENO’s annual income, the company previously confirmed.

Proposed plans suggested the ENO was set to receive a £17 million grant over three years – but only if it relocates outside of London, with a move to Manchester being suggested.

On Tuesday, the ENO said after “negotiations” with ACE, the organisation is set to receive £11.46 million for the next financial year beginning on April 1 from the National Lottery. However, that represents a 9% cut from its previous funding, the ENO said.

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ACE said the funding has been granted to “sustain a programme of work at the ENO’s home the London Coliseum” and at the same time “help the ENO start planning for a new base outside London by 2026”.

Darren Henley, chief executive of ACE, said: “This grant will provide the ENO with stability and continuity while they plan their future. We want to back an exciting programme of work from the ENO in a new home, and make sure it stays part of the brilliant London arts offer at the Coliseum.

“We know this means a challenging period of change for the company and its staff, but it will also mean opera for more people in the long term and contributes to the levelling up of cultural investment. The funding announced today is on top of a £30 million per year national portfolio commitment to opera and the many talented people who work within it.

“Our financial resources are finite, and today’s investment balances the public’s desire for high quality arts and culture of all kinds in towns and cities all over England, and the ambitions of artists and creative professionals working across England’s arts, museums and libraries.”

English National Opera’s Messiah
The English National Opera is based at London Coliseum (Ian West/PA)

ENO boss Stuart Murphy said it is pleased to have agreed the funding and negotiations now turn to investment for 2024-2026, which he said in opera planning terms is “imminent”.

He added: “While we fundamentally disagree with ACE’s decision to remove the ENO from the NPO list having met or exceeded all success criteria laid down, we nevertheless continue discussions with ACE in good faith and look forward to agreeing funding levels for 24/25 and 25/26 which would allow us to continue to deliver the best of the ENO for out-of-London audiences – at a level London audiences have experienced for almost 100 years.”

The opera company embarked on a campaign to reverse ACE’s funding decision last year, supporting a petition set up by opera singer Sir Bryn Terfel – which has attracted more than 83,000 signatures – and Mr Murphy held talks with Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan.

The ENO said the “delay” in confirming its financial status has meant plans for the season will “inevitably have to change”, including the postponement of a number of new productions as well as the current Ring Cycle “which was due to continue with a new production of Siegfried next season”.

The statement continued: “However, this level of funding will allow us to honour many of the contracts of the hundreds of freelancers we hire every year, and enable us to continue to make incredible opera available for everyone, in English, with hugely subsidised tickets.

“We do remain concerned that this only gives audiences and our workforce one year’s reprieve, and still leaves a huge amount of uncertainty regarding the ENO’s future.

Channel 4 privatisation
Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan held talks with ENO boss Stuart Murphy (James Manning/PA)

“For the ENO to meaningfully deliver on the Government’s levelling-up agenda, ACE needs to invest in the organisation at an appropriate level going forward. This has to be done in the context of ACE developing an opera strategy, in conversations with audiences and our colleagues across the industry – something that is still yet to be undertaken by ACE.”

The opera company said it “remains in the dark” as to why its national portfolio organisation status was removed by ACE “despite us meeting or exceeding all the criteria they set”.

The statement added: “Our hope is that as negotiations for investment for future years continue, some clarity will be provided. In the meantime, we want to thank everyone for their continued support during this difficult and worrying time for everyone at the ENO.

The ACE said further investment for 2024 to 2026 is available “in principle subject to discussion and application”.