English National Opera announces next stage of strategy for nurturing BAME talent and encouraging a more inclusive opera industry

14th January 2020 in Press

English National Opera (ENO) today (14 January) announces the next phase of a strategy aimed at making the opera industry more accessible and representative of the society in which we live.

ENO is to recruit 5 new string players from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background in a positive effort to ensure our Orchestra more fairly reflects our society. ENO’s ambition is to achieve greater diversity within the company to create specific opportunities for those who are currently under represented both in London and nationally. Those who are selected for the ENO Orchestra Fellowship for BAME String Players will join the ENO Orchestra from the start of the 2020/21 season on a fixed term contract for 12 months.

This marks the second phase in ENO’s commitment to achieve greater diversity within the opera industry and classical music. In January of last year we announced the first phase – that we were to recruit four new Chorus Fellows from a BAME background in a concerted effort to ensure our Chorus more fairly reflects our society. Isabelle Peters, Julia Daramy-Williams, Satriya Krisna and James Liu joined ENO in August and have already been featured on stage as part of ENO’s 19/20 Season.

Additionally, ENO launched four annual ENO Director Observerships, offering emerging BAME directors the opportunity to work alongside world-renowned opera directors, observing the entire process of directing an opera from start to finish. Paid participants will also be given an insight into the day to day workings of a large national company, from stage management and company office to technical and production. Abdul Shayek, Femi Fagunwa, Ashen Gupta and Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster are observing Orpheus in the Underworld, Rusalka, Carmen and The Marriage of Figaro respectively. This scheme will continue in to the 2020/21 season.

From the start of the 2018 Season, ENO put into place, for the first time ever, screened auditions for the orchestra, as part of its recruitment process. This has also extended to auditions for the chorus.

Martyn Brabbins, ENO Music Director, said: “Here at ENO we are committed to contributing to the development of a more diverse classical music industry. We strongly believe by introducing the ENO Orchestra Fellowship for BAME String Players we will make an important and much needed difference to the opera industry, and further our belief that opera should be open to everybody.”

Stuart Murphy, CEO, ENO said: “This is another vital step by English National Opera to making the opera industry more inclusive. We are proud to be proactively encouraging a more diverse workforce in the classical music industry and hope that other UK institutions follow suit.”

John Shortell, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Official, Musicians’ Union said: “The MU is delighted that ENO are tackling the issue of diversity in orchestras head on. It’s essential that orchestras reflect our diverse society and positive action initiatives, such as ENO’s, are a vital first step in making orchestras more representative and help level the playing field for BAME musicians. The MU fully supports the initiative and we look forward to seeing the impact ENO’s fantastic work has on the orchestral sector.”

Claire Mera-Nelson, Director of Music for Arts Council England said: “The Arts Council welcomes the next step in ENO’s plan to diversify its workforce. More needs to be done to address the significant barriers that Black and minority ethnic musicians face in joining an orchestra and ensuring that it better reflects the society we live in.”

In the 18/19 season, 10% of ENO’s audience was BAME. The company will continue to increase diversity via its audience development strategy, a big part of which will be ensuring bigger and broader representation on stage within our productions.

Through ENO Baylis, the company’s Learning and Participation programme, we continually engage with people from areas of social deprivation or BAME backgrounds to introduce them to opera, and provide support to those who are interested in developing a career in the arts. To date, more than 15,000 people have watched ENO for free via Baylis ticket giveaways, and we have brought opera into schools, allowing more than 5000 schoolchildren from schools with a higher than average BAME representation to experience opera.



ENO diversity statement

English National Opera exists for everyone, creating new experiences with opera that inspires, nurtures creativity and makes a difference. We aim to develop diverse voices, engage diverse audiences and build a diverse organisation.

Diversity, in terms of gender, BAME and increasingly disability, is an integral part of everything we do.  Clear targets for 2018-22 include specific diversity targets for the make-up of creative teams including minimum numbers of diverse principal singers, dancers and conductors on our main stage works. We have renewed our leadership commitment to equal opportunities and are developing a Diversity and Inclusion council to ensure we continue to champion diversity.

Our pay is broadly equivalent irrespective of gender and we strive to maintain a working environment where this is the case. In the 18/19 Season four out of six directors of our new productions were women – a record for ENO. In 19/20, over half of our creative teams (53.1%) are female with 58.8% of staff directors women.

ENO aims to be at the forefront of nurturing BAME talent in opera and believes that opera is a living art form able to connect with people from all parts of our society and therefore collaborate with a range of artists and art forms to deliver different aspects of the repertoire. ENO’s ambition is to grow the diversity on stage equalling or achieving a higher rate than the amount of people who are BAME living in the UK.

We also aim to introduce completely new audiences to the magic of opera through stimulating and creative learning and participation programmes – ENO Baylis has consistently engaged ethnically diverse young people. All four 2018/19 Opera Squad schools have BAME populations above the London average and our youth programme supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our most recent youth project engaged young people, 79% of whom were from a BAME background.

Our audience is becoming more diverse and younger – something we are continuing to build on with the introduction of free balcony tickets to certain ENO performances for Under 18s.  We will continue to reach out to communities who might think opera is not for them.

We sing in English, as we believe it enhances the emotional connection between performers and audiences and bring our productions to the widest possible audience, whether at the London Coliseum, nationally or internationally.


Support for ENO Choral Fellowships for BAME Singers has been provided by:

The Andor Charitable Trust
Garfield Weston Foundation
The Leche Trust
The Thriplow Charitable Trust
The Fenton Arts Trust
The Lord and Lady Lurgan Trust


Support for ENO Orchestra Fellowships for BAME String Players has been provided by:

The D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust
The Sylvia Waddilove Foundation UK


ENO is about opera for everyone.