As we publish our annual review for the 2015/16 financial year, I also wanted to take this opportunity to answer some of the recent questions that we have been asked regarding the future of English National Opera and to give an update on our progress through a difficult year towards a more stable organisation.
Two years ago we faced a very real threat to the continued existence of ENO: we had no assurance of our funding in the coming financial year, nor, if funding was given, our ability to meet our needs on a subsidy of £12.38m from April 2017. Throughout we have had to make difficult and painful decisions to overcome these threats and to find a way to operate on a level of funding comparable to one which we received in 2000. The Board, the senior team and I have sought the advice, the input and the feedback of leaders in the sector across the UK and internationally, and discussed these plans within the company. While challenging, we have overcome these grave threats to ENO’s future and we should celebrate the Company’s achievements in 2016 – not only a fantastic award-winning year for our Chorus, our Orchestra and our productions , but also the significant progress we have made towards creating a sustainable and thriving company.
Seven new board members have joined us since April 2015 and we are pleased to share the creation of a President’s Committee to provide advice and support to the Board and wider company. We are delighted that many eminent individuals and great artists with long associations with us have agreed to join the Committee, which we will meet with on several occasions throughout the year. We have appointed Daniel Kramer as Artistic Director and Martyn Brabbins as Music Director – we are all thrilled to go into 2017 with a full complement of artistic and music leadership of the Company.
Level of activity and public value
Over the past two decades we have seen a decline in the number of performances presented by ENO. As we announced earlier this year, we have cut back to eight productions at the London Coliseum in 16/17, but intend to grow to nine immediately in 17/18 and then to 10 as soon as possible thereafter. While we do want to do evenmore work, more performances and more productions, we have already maintained a level above what was envisaged by the Arts Council when our current level of subsidy at £12.38m was set. That level of funding was set as one which would support an opera company with part-time or freelance performing forces staging 7-8 productions and 75-80 performances per year. We are determined to do as much as possible above this level – whether staging concerts, working outside the Coliseum, increasing our learning and outreach activity – and we are determined to preserve as far as possible the permanent employment of our forces.
We do not simply measure our public value in terms of the number of performances staged. We also measure it through our vibrant contribution to the artistic life of the UK as well as through our representation of the UK’s talent and excellence abroad. This means that we constantly evaluate how we serve the widest possible audience, how we can best engage with young people, how we can provide employment and training for hundreds of people within the arts sector, and how we can ensure we support the arts sector as a whole.
Our subsidy supports performances, but it also supports our position as the largest employer of British operatic talent in the world. Over 80% of our singers and conductors in the 15/16 financial year were British born, trained or resident. Our ENO Harewood Artists Programme was the first of its kind in the UK and enables exceptionally talented UK-trained singers to perform with a major opera company while receiving specialist coaching, support and guidance. Our other talent development programmes include Opera Works for younger singers, the ENO Mackerras Fellowship for exceptional young conductors, and ENO Evolve for instrumentalists at the Royal College of Music. Our subsidy also supports our work with over 12,000 young people and vulnerable adults who over the last year have engaged with us through our learning and outreach programme named in honour of our founder, Lillian Baylis.
Over the last 12 months we have done our utmost to preserve a full-time company despite the dramatic reduction to our funding. We employ over 320 people on permanent contracts and believe that it is vital to have a base that offers, as far as possible, permanent employment to our Chorus, our Orchestra, and our music and technical staff. We appreciate the huge importance of our teams working and performing together regularly, with the increased security offered by a permanent position, and this is a central feature of our future planning.
We are also responsible for the management of our home, the London Coliseum. Our theatre is an important venue for performances from other publicly subsidised arts organisations, most notably English National Ballet – who will be giving 50 performances at the London Coliseum this Christmas.
In addition to attending our performances at the London Coliseum, many people experience our operas in other ways. In the 2015/16 financial year, over 1.3 million people came to one of our live performances, listened to one of our Radio 3 broadcasts, watched one of our operas on Sky Arts or in cinemas as part of ENO Screen, or enjoyed one of our international co-productions around the world. Although live performance at the London Coliseum is at the heart of what we do, our reach extends well beyond this both in the UK and internationally.
London Coliseum and visiting companies
We have increased our target income for our home, the London Coliseum, in response to our reduction in public subsidy. We have always rented out our home when we aren’t producing operas there – most notably to ballet companies such as English National Ballet. Our new way of working consists of Autumn and Spring seasons at the Coliseum supported by a Summer season of outside work. This work outside the Coliseum gives us more flexibility to explore chamber opera and unusual repertoire as well as presenting exciting opportunities for talent and audience development at a time of year when it is traditionally more difficult to sell tickets to opera at our theatre. We are looking forward to sharing details of our Summer 2018 outside work at our season launch in April.
Our yearly reduction in public funding means that we have increased our box office and fundraising targets alongside savings to ENO’s fixed costs. By renting out the London Coliseum for more weeks of the year, while we perform elsewhere, we will generate significantly more income that we can then invest back into our opera, talent development and the work of ENO Baylis, our learning and participation department.
We have also for the last 2 years developed a musical with a commercial partner, GradeLinnit, each spring, at a time when we would usually hire out the theatre to visiting companies. The 14 performances of Sweeney Todd and 43 performances of Sunset Boulevard were seen by over 122,000 people, presenting us with a fantastic opportunity for audience development at ENO and for opera more widely.
Our next musical, Carousel, features both our Orchestra and Chorus and will run for 41 performances in April and May 2017. We are confident that the opportunity for audiences to hear our wonderful Orchestra and Chorus and visit our beautiful theatre presents an opportunity to build new audiences of opera. The success of this has been seen already with return bookers from Sweeney Todd and Sunset Boulevard. The additional income raised from our musical theatre partnerships is invested straight back into our work, allowing us to programme more opera in the future.
We would like to make it clear that we have no intention of leaving the Coliseum. It is our home. Far from reducing the quality and quantity of our work, in three years time ENO will be producing more opera than it currently does as well as supporting both our audiences and our artists in a range of other ways.
This year has demonstrated beyond all doubt the importance of ENO in the hearts of so many – whether audience members past or present, friends and supporters, commentators or the wider opera community. The message this year was absolutely clear – ENO must continue to thrive. With this in mind, we should remember that a difficult 2016 ends with the company on a far more stable footing than at the close of 2015. We all are looking forward to working under the Artistic and Music leadership of Daniel and Martyn, building our number of productions at the Coliseum and developing the work we do at other venues.
Thank you to all of you at ENO, our friends and supporters who continue to contribute to the life of English National Opera.