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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 15:52 GMT
ENO's chorus of disapproval
The English National Opera was given a 4.2m grant to survive
The embattled English National Opera has faced crisis after financial crisis in the past few years. So how did it start, and what does the future hold for the ENO?

It may receive a 13m annual subsidy from the Arts Council of England, but that has not prevented the ENO from teetering on the edge of insolvency for years.

Recently, Chorus members had to strike in order to reach a deal with management on pay and job cuts.

And strike action from backstage staff is still being threatened.

The company is likely to be 4m in debt by the time the 41m refurbishment of its Coliseum Theatre base in London is complete in January 2004.

On top of all that, its head of music, Tony Legge, has offered to leave, upsetting staff further.

Bad money after good

The ENO is currently clinging on to the hope that the Arts Council will bail it out - yet again - following a meeting between the two parties on Tuesday.

The big poser for the Arts Council - which is funded by taxpayers and lottery funds - is, would it just be bad money after good?

A Masked Ball
A Masked Ball came in for heavy criticism

ENO was saved from going into receivership last year by a 4.2m cash injection from the Arts Council.

But in many ways that deal just exacerbated the opera's problems.

In order to get a rescue package in the first place, the ENO had to come up with a strategy. It chose to cut down its 60-strong chorus down to 40.

The choristers were having none of it and went on strike in February.

The 60 singers walked out when they were due to perform The Trojans - The Capture of Troy at the Coliseum.

Instead they held a free concert in a nearby church for invited guests and supporters.

Satanic sex rituals

After theatening a second strike, they agreed a deal with management to reduce their numbers to 50 through voluntary redundancy.

Part of ENO's current troubles have been blamed on a series of unorthodox productions put on by the company in 2001/02.

One performance which came in for particular criticism was Verdi's A Masked Ball, which featured homosexual rape, satanic sex rituals and masturbation.

Catalan director Calixto Bieito was behind both A Masked Ball and the controversial Don Giovanni, which was greeted with boos from a section of the audience on its first night and described by The Independent's Edward Seckerson as "garbage".

As well as being critical flops they were also seen as a commercial disaster as many regular theatregoers stayed away.

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

The ENO vowed last year to put a season of bad reviews and low audiences behind it after admitting it had made mistakes.

Its 2002/3 season was aimed at the more traditional opera lover, and included both a revival of perennial favourite Tosca and a revival of Berlioz's The Trojans.

Radical approach

Poor management and some bad decisions have also been cited as reasons for the ENO's current predicament.

The company decided to get rid of controversial general director Nicholas Payne last year, a decision which was greeted with disgust from some sections of the opera world.

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

Mr Payne had run the company for four years, but was criticised for his rather radical approach.

"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.

The Arts Council is now deciding the future of the ENO. Only time will tell whether it will judge that the opera used up all of its chances, or will be given one final reprieve.

Opera choir strike over jobs cuts
18 Feb 03 |  Entertainment
Impresario blasts 'absurd' opera cuts
29 Jan 03 |  Entertainment
Grant saved ENO from 'extinction'
28 Jan 03 |  Entertainment
Troubled opera wins extra money
22 Jan 03 |  Entertainment
Opera singers condemn bosses
17 Jan 03 |  Entertainment
ENO attacked over Payne 'sacking'
18 Jul 02 |  Entertainment

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