Manchester beats Liverpool to become new home of English National Opera in controversial move

The English National Opera rehearse Gilbert & Sullivan's lolanthe
The classical music community has warned the move will cost the ENO musicians and ticket income - John Snelling / Getty

Manchester has beaten Liverpool to become the new home of the English National Opera (ENO) following a row over the company’s forced move from London.

The ENO’s public funding was to be stripped by Arts Council England unless it moved operations outside the capital.

A shortlist of host cities was produced, with Liverpool believed to be among the frontrunners.

But Manchester has beaten rival contenders to become the new base for the ENO.

The announcement comes after the classical music community warned that the ENO will lose both its musicians and its income from ticket sales as a result of the move.

Jenny Mollica, Chief Executive Officer of the ENO, said the company was “delighted to confirm the start of our new partnership with Greater Manchester from today”

She added: “As we continue to transition through significant change, today’s announcement marks an important and defining moment for our remarkable company.

“This future direction will see us continue to expand our role as a national institution – supporting our mission to create work with and for even more audiences across the country.”

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, welcomed the decision, saying: “The ENO is one of the most exciting cultural institutions in the country, and we’re immensely proud to be able to bring them to a new home here in Greater Manchester.”

The move has been forced by controversial cuts to the funding provided to the ENO by Arts Council England, which announced in November 2022 that the entirety of the company’s £12 million grant would be slashed.

This decision was later reversed, with funding provided on the condition that the ENO move its base of operations outside London, and a shortlist of five cities was drawn up which included Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham.

Liverpool repeatedly made the case to become the new home of the ENO, and the city’s mayor Steve Rotheram publicly called on the arts minister Stephen Parkinson to ensure the bidding process was fair.

‘Unlikely to be a sufficiently large paying audience for opera outside the capital’

Concerns have been raised that any location outside London would lead to the demise of the ENO, with former Supreme Court judge Lord Jonathan Sumption quitting the board of the opera company in June in protest against the relocation plans.

He warned that there was unlikely to be a sufficiently large paying audience for opera outside the capital, a fact which would threaten the financial viability of the ENO.

Lord Sumption also raised concerns that the ensemble would inevitably be broken up as its London-based musicians would be unable to relocate to a new home.

These warnings were repeated by the Musician’s Union, whose general secretary Naomi Pohl stated in October that performers would likely choose to leave the company rather than relocate and face an uncertain future.

Her comments came after Martyn Brabbins, then music director of the ENO, quit the company over concerns that plans to cut orchestral roles and put remaining performers on part-time contracts would lead to “managed decline”.

The ENO will retain a season at its current base at the London Coliseum.