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Last Updated: Friday, 16 December 2005, 15:26 GMT
Letter 'asks opera head to quit'
The English National Opera House building
Staff at the London opera house are unhappy over pay
An open letter to the English National Opera challenging its chairman to resign has been sent by 10 signatories including writer Jeanette Winterson.

The letter, which has been seen by The Independent and Guardian newspapers, is quoted as describing "widespread criticism" against Martin Smith.

Last week ENO staff voted unanimously to ballot for strike action over pay and pension demands.

The ENO's spokesman said he had no comment as he had not seen the letter.

According to the papers, it was sent to the ENO's board of governors by musicians and artists including former ENO head David Pountney, broadcaster Libby Purves, Scottish Ballet's artistic director Ashley Page and composer Jonathan Dove.

Sean Doran, former chief executive of the ENO
Sean Doran stepped down as chief executive of ENO last week

ENO board members include head of TV producer Peter Bazalgette, soprano Lesley Garrett, BBC Proms director Nicholas Kenyon and Mr Smith's deputy, Vernon Ellis, chairman of management consultancy Accenture and a "multimillion-pound donor" to ENO.

The Independent said the letter accused Mr Smith of losing "the confidence not only of the world of opera, but of stakeholders at large".

The letter reportedly said his chairmanship "has been most damaging to this important institution and has brought about a crisis point", and called for a change of leadership "to ensure a better future".

The Independent said Mr Smith's managerial style had also been called into question.

Fundraising performance

The letter coincides with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall attending a gala performance of Anthony Minghella's Madam Butterfly on Friday night.

The performance will raise funds for the Prince's Trust and ENO's Young Singers Programme.

The ENO is currently in a state of change after Sean Doran stepped down at the end of November as chief executive and artistic director.

He left by mutual consent, saying he was "sad to leave" but proud of his achievements.

The ENO has suffered financial difficulties in recent years.

In 2003, government-backed Arts Council England recently bailed it out with a 4.2m grant which saved it from "extinction".

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