Last month, we were told by Arts Council England that the funding to English National Opera would end in 20 weeks’ time, unless we shut up shop in London and moved outside the capital.
If we agreed, we would be given half our budget to relocate, over three years, with a hint that any budget post 2026 would only be around a third of what we would get in London.
As someone born and raised in Leeds, the idea of levelling up makes complete sense to me. But it should be about fairness. If the ENO were to relocate, this needs to be a process that takes time, with a detailed analysis of which city might be most appropriate, an assessment of audience appetite and the financial investment to ensure success as with the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Why should a location out of London receive an ENO funded at a fraction of the cost – that isn’t levelling up, it is diminishing the product and frankly insulting to everyone who lives outside of the capital.
Levelling up isn’t a zero sum game and all places can benefit if a London-based organisation has authentic and deep roots in cities outside the capital. We have in eight secondary schools in Liverpool, four schools in Luton and in 85 NHS hospitals across the country with our ENO Breathe programme, where we train people with long Covid how to sing opera as a way of improving their breathing confidence.
We broadcast across the country – whether that’s with Mozart’s Requiem on BBC 2 and a drive-in version of la boheme on Sky Arts, or whether it’s something dafter like an operatic version of Netflix’s Tiger King on Tik Tok (that 17million people watched, God help them). We have shown time and again, over our 100-year history, that an imaginative, nationally-focussed London-based company can do great and powerful things - changing lives, being loved and creating economic prosperity.
Now one in seven of our audience are under 35, while tickets are totally free for under 21s. We also have the most diverse full-time chorus in the UK and aiming to achieve the same with our orchestra.
Levelling up can’t mean trampling on things that work simply because of their geographical location. And if we do want to expand our footprint – as we proposed to Arts Council England in our funding submission – then that requires greater investment so we really can make a difference, not less.
Stuart Murphy is the CEO of the English National Opera. It has started a petition reinstate the English National Opera’s ACE Funding immediately · Change.org. The ENO is also asking that people film themselves saying what effect the ENO has had on their life. Post it on social media with the hashtags #Choose Opera #LoveENO.