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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
ENO attacked over Payne 'sacking'
A Masked Ball
A Masked Ball attracted controversy but not audiences
Prominent figures from the opera world have condemned the English National Opera's decision to get rid of controversial general director Nicholas Payne.

In a joint letter to the Times newspaper, three ex-ENO leaders described the move as "shabby" and "dangerous to the future of opera".


The board of the ENO could not have devised a more catastrophic torpedoing of British operatic theatre

Payne supporters
"Payne is the most experienced professional still working in British opera," wrote former ENO general director Peter Jonas, former ENO music director Mark Elder and former director of productions David Pountney.

"His sin....seems to be that he has taken too seriously ENO's tradition of being at the forefront of operatic experiment."

The former ENO leaders were among nine well-known directors and conductors to leap to Mr Payne's defence.

Unorthodox approach

Mr Payne, 57, has run the company for four years but recently has been criticised for a series of unorthodox productions.

Some shows have had poor notices and, in some cases, provoked anger and booing from audiences.

February's production of Verdi's A Masked Ball opened with 14 of the cast sitting on lavatories and included simulated sex and masturbation.
Nicholas Payne
Payne: "courageous and visionary"

Despite much press, ticket sales fell to 65% of capacity.

And in June 2001, director Calixto Bieito's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, with its drug-taking and simulated fellatio, was booed by the audience and described by The Independent's Edward Seckerson as "garbage".

Mr Payne's supporters described the ousted general director as "courageous and visionary".

"By forcing Payne's resignation, the board of the ENO could not have devised a more catastrophic torpedoing of British operatic theatre had it tried," said another letter to the Times newspaper, signed by six opera figures.

No surprise

An ENO spokesman said such criticism had been expected.

"Nicholas was extremely well respected," she said. "It would have been surprising if something like this hadn't happened."

She was unable to comment on the board's motives for ousting Mr Payne.

Mr Payne will be replaced by Caroline Felton, who will assume the role of acting managing director alongside music director Paul Daniel.

See also:

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