The Pandemic, ENO and you

Covid-19 has meant theatre can’t happen in the conventional sense, but nevertheless ENO has worked tirelessly to bring the magic of opera to our audience in every way we can.

English National Opera is foremost a national arts organisation, that is dedicated to bringing world class opera to everyone. It’s been tough in lockdown, but we’ve consistently done our utmost to ensure we continue to do this for everyone, whether or not opera is a part of their life previously.

Read on for an overview of all the fun ENO has been up to since March 2020…

We launched ENO Breathe with Imperial College Hospital

We partnered with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to develop a social prescribing intervention that will provide crucial support to people recovering from COVID-19, in the first partnership of its kind between a leading arts organisation and an NHS Trust.

Led by ENO Baylis, our learning and participation programme, this holistic online programme brings together medical and musical expertise and will provide novel ways to support and empower those recovering from COVID-19, offering tools for self-management, particularly with regards to posture, breath and anxiety.

The programme was extremely successful in its initial trial, with 90% of participants feeling it had a ‘positive’ or ‘strong positive’ impact on their breathlessness, and 91% on their levels of anxiety. We have already confirmed 60 people places on the course since January and are looking to open up new groups every week. We have also signed up 15 partner clinics and are in discussions with a further 10 clinics.

The scheme has caught the attention of people across the world (featured on BBC News, CBS, CNN, New York Times, Euronews and more). and will be offered to London-based individuals before being rolled out nationwide in 2021.

We honoured freelancer contracts

Right out of the gate, we announced we would be honouring the contracts for those brought on board for productions that had to be cancelled, setting the precedent that many other arts companies subsequently followed. We are proud to support our talented freelancers who work tirelessly to bring the magic of ENO to the stage.

One of the most amazing contributions ENO employees made over the lockdown is down to our phenomenal costume department. Moving away from the captivating costumes of the 2019/20 Season operas, the team dedicated themselves to sew scrubs and produce PPE for London hospitals facing shortages.

Raising a remarkable £26,000, the team produced 1,700 pairs of scrubs, 500 hats and 1,000 visors and donated the remaining money to NHS charities.

Our Deputy Head of Costume Sarah Bowern has since been awarded an MBE in recognition of the department’s efforts.

This summer we commissioned ‘What do you hope for?’, a series of short films curated by Simone Ibbett-Brown, featuring world-class operatic artists responding to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The work of our wonderful artists speaks for itself.

The first video features ‘Peace on Earth’ with words and music by Errollyn Wallen and performances by Gerrard Martin and Idunnu Münch.

‘It’s not that Britain is unequal. Pretty much every society on the planet is unequal. It’s the lies that we tell ourselves. We pretend that it isn’t.’ Akala

Now and always, Black Lives Matter.

ENO Drive & Live, the world’s first large scale drive-in opera wowed audiences in September, marking the first time the company performed together in person since March.

Held in the grounds of London’s Alexandra Palace and based on a huge festival-sized stage, the performances of Puccini’s La bohème were rehearsed and performed by two casts and crews in separate bubbles, whilst audiences enjoyed the spectacle from the safety of their vehicles.

Additionally, a recorded version of one of the casts aired on Sky Arts, broadcasting Puccini’s magnum opus to the nation.


We performed Mozart's Requiem on national television

Returning from the country’s first lockdown, we wanted to perform a work that resonated with our scattered audience, as well as our talented artists and musicians. Despite an impending second lockdown, ENO convened to perform Mozart’s Requiem on the London Coliseum stage.

Despite no live audience due to restrictions, the poignant requiem was warmly received when it broadcast on BBC Two, accomplishing what we set out to do – take a moment of remembrance in a time of chaos.

Sadly the performance is no longer available on BBC iPlayer.

This summer, we invited young people to submit personal expressions of their lockdown experience, and to help us create a ‘lockdown aria’. We received 50 submissions across several art forms, including music, painting, photography, poetry and more.

This culminated in an online exhibition in partnership with Google Arts & Culture and Arts Council England, showcasing and celebrating our participants’ creativity.

We commissioned spoken word artist Kieron Rennie to write a new piece weaving the voices of our participants’ voices together. Read more about The Way I See It and view the full exhibition.

We won Outstanding Achievement in Opera at the 2020 Olivier Awards

During the 2020 Olivier Awards, which aired on 25 October, the Children’s Ensemble from our 2019 production of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde (a co-production with Theatre Royal Stratford East) won the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera.

The production Involved a Children’s Ensemble of 120 children from local schools, alongside other and children in lead roles, Noye’s Fludde told of the importance of courage, redemption and the promise of a new beginning. East London school children appeared as the Animal Chorus, rehearsing weekly at their schools, before joining the full company at Stratford East in preparation for the shows.

ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins and James Henshaw were nominated in the same category, for their joint conducting of our The Mask of Orpheus in October 2019.

We were also nominated twice for ‘Best New Opera Production’ with Hansel and Gretel, a co-production with Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and for Noye’s Fludde with Theatre Royal Stratford East.

The London Coliseum has been busy as well

We opened up our theatre to friends to stage their work, from Pegasus Opera Company to Dear Joan and Jericha to Malaria Stop to [title of show] and a script reading for Motherland on BBC TV.

Parts of Strictly Come Dancing were filmed on the main stage, featuring the full cast and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Keen-eyed watchers of The Crown season four may have seen the London Coliseum in a scene too.

Whilst we may not have been able to use the Coliseum to capacity, we’ve put the space to use in any way we can!

We welcomed Vicky McClure and the Dementia Choir for a special performance

Just over two years ago, in Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure, Vicky took to the stage at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham with her choir of people all living with dementia to perform in front of 2000 people.

In 2020, for a heart-warming 30 minute special for BBC1, Vicky told the story of the choir through lockdown leading up to a very special Christmas performance with members of the English National Opera at the London Coliseum for one choir member. Mick is living his bucket list while he can and wants to sing on a stage one last time. He knew he was coming to London to sing, but he had no idea where or that Vicky arranged for her co-star on Line of Duty, Adrian Dunbar to sing with him.

The Dementia Choir at Christmas is no longer available on BBC iPlayer.

Social Media Fun

Throughout the lockdowns, tiers and isolation, English National Opera has tried to spark a little joy in the life of all of our audience, taking to social media to share what we’ve been up to. Some of the highlights include:

Members of our orchestra took to their streets for Doorstep Opera, accompanying their neighbours in the weekly clap for Key Workers.

We recreated iconic ENO productions (like Calixto Bieto‘s production of Carmen) with nothing but Lego and creativity with #ENOLegoChallenge.

As a special thank you to the NHS, we took a creative spin on ‘For He is an Englishman’ from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. The newly Christened ‘We Love the NHS’ was performed by Joshua Bloom and members of the ENO Chorus.

Our pianists Chris Hopkins and Andrew Smith performed The Marriage of Figaro Overture as a duet from isolation.

Members of the ENO Chorus joined Matt Lucas for a performance of his Baked Potato song.

We all need a reminder from time to time, and with the hashtag #ENOHandWashing we wanted to give a little prompt to make sure you wash your hands for long enough. A particularly memorable highlight was our barbershop quartet!

Our dedicated percussionists created a spirited video to celebrate the NHS, using some… creative instrumentation.

Mohammad Salim of the Stage Door team snuck into the London Coliseum to take some stunning photos of our theatre when it was empty.

Additionally, our ENO Orchestra took to Zoom to perform, specialists from across the departments of ENO gave masterclasses, and our supporters even had a virtual ghost tour of the London Coliseum.

Not bad for during a pandemic, right?