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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
ENO denies 'shutdown' reports
English National Opera
Recent productions brought controversy - but not audiences
The English National Opera (ENO) has denied reports that it is to shut down for 16 months, make many of its staff redundant and become a part-time company.

Theatre trade weekly The Stage had reported that ENO chairman Martin Smith planned to close the company from June 2003 until September 2004, and employ only a skeleton staff during that period.


Full-scale redundancies were never part of the plan

English National Opera
The report also said that Mr Smith wanted the company to perform at the Coliseum for just six months of the year - enabling the company to rent out the venue for the rest of the time.

But on Thursday an ENO spokeswoman said the Coliseum would reopen in January 2004, after a seven-month closure for renovations.

"We have an artistic programme for next season and will return to the Coliseum in January 2004.

"That is the plan and that has not been changed," she said.

The spokeswoman said the reports were "speculation and rumour" and called the idea of a part-time company an "illogical scenario".

And the spokeswoman dismissed suggestions of large-scale job losses.

"Full-scale redundancies were never part of the plan."

But, she added: "A small number of redundancies can never be completely ruled out."

The report in The Stage had caused alarm in opera circles.

Nicholas Payne
Payne: is departure was widely seen as a sacking
Times opera critic Rodney Milnes told BBC News Online the plans, if true, would be a "complete disaster".

"For a company that's been going since 1935 to be wiped out like this would be a crime against the arts," he said.

The row has come just two weeks after Nicholas Payne, ENO's general director, stepped down.

'Dangerous'

Last week three former managers of the ENO condemned Mr Payne's departure in a letter to The Times.

David Pountney, a former director of productions at ENO, ENO general director Peter Jonas and former ENO music director Mark Elder described the move as "dangerous to the future of opera".

Observers of the opera scene have said that Mr Payne's departure was precipitated by his refusal to support Mr Smith's radical closure plans - although Mr Payne had also endured heavy criticism for his recent productions.

Mr Payne is believed to have signed a clause that prevents him from speaking about the matter publicly.

New positions of artistic director and managing director will replace the now-defunct post of general director.

ENO is currently confronted by a 700,000 deficit and an impending 41m restoration of its central London base, the Coliseum.

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