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

28th January 2019 in News

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

English National Opera (ENO) today (Monday 28 January) announces a key step forward to making the opera industry more accessible and representative of the society in which we live.

ENO is to recruit four new choristers from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background in a concerted effort to ensure our Chorus more fairly reflects our society. They will join the ENO Chorus for the 19/20 Season for a 9 month paid contract with the view to extending for a further season. This means that for the first time ever, ENO’s Chorus will more closely echo the proportion of people from diverse backgrounds that currently make up the UK population (currently 13%). ENO are also actively seeking to audition and employ Choristers from a BAME background for ‘extra chorus’ positions.

In addition, ENO is launching three 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. Participants (who will be paid) 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.

From the start of the 2018 Season, ENO put into place, for the first time ever, blind auditions for the orchestra, as part of its recruitment process.

Stuart Murphy, ENO CEO,  said: “I am proud of ENO’s founding principle to provide opera for everyone and hope today’s announcement shows we continue to be committed to making this a reality in three key areas – reflecting diversity in both our performers and non-performers, and in our audiences. If we get this right, it will liberate new pools of talent in the UK and bring a greater and more varied stories to our stage. Today’s announcement follows the launch before Christmas of our scheme giving Free Tickets to Under 18’s on Saturdays, for which almost 1,000 tickets have been claimed.”

Dr Harry Brünjes, Chairman, ENO said: “As with the Under 18 free ticket scheme, the board believes this is an excellent and exciting announcement. Stuart Murphy and his colleagues have our full support in their vision for the ENO of the future.”

Joyce Wilson, London Area Director, Arts Council England, said: ‘Enhancing the diversity of the UK’s arts and cultural offer is key to its continuing success and growth. I am pleased to see such a strong statement of intent from English National Opera to the creation of a more representative company, and its commitment to the principle of opera for everyone.’

Hilary Hadley, Head of Live Performance, Equity said: “Equity applauds the initiative taken by ENO to improve access by BAME singers to the work of the ENO Chorus. It is important that the world of Opera in the UK also reflects the rich diversity of our population, and Equity believes targeted initiatives such as the ENO BAME Chorus Fellowship are an effective first step towards redressing any such imbalance”.

Part of ENO’s development of this strategy followed detailed collaboration with the National Opera Studio on their Diverse Voices Programme, as well as ENO’s Harewood artists and the cast of ENO’s recent hit production of Porgy and Bess. As part of ENO’s commitment to representation, ENO provided the cast with access to two weeks coaching as well as the opportunity to audition for more than 20 key figures from across the UK opera industry.

In the 17/18 season, 10% of ENO’s audience was BAME, up from 3% in the previous year.  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: half of the ensemble for Dido and Aeneas, our upcoming collaboration with Unicorn Theatre, are from a BAME background, for instance. Another of our upcoming collaborations, Noye’s Fludde with Theatre Royal Stratford East, will combine the talents of professional singers, actors and musicians with those of schoolchildren and the local community.

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.

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Notes to Editors:

English National Opera is the national opera company dedicated to one simple aim: making opera for everyone.

We sing in English to be as accessible to the widest possible audience, we offer over a fifth of all tickets for £20 or less, we create opera that feels different, more theatrical and creatively daring. We’ve been doing this to an internationally recognised standard since being founded in 1931 as Sadler’s Wells Opera.

We bring together artists from different art forms, from photography, sculpture and fashion to dance, slapstick comedy and puppetry, all adding something new to the extraordinary art form that is opera.

We are determined to open up the genre: nearly half of our audiences in 2017/18 were first-time bookers. Our learning and participation programme ENO Baylis last year touched the lives of over 15,000 school children and community groups, and our talent development programme nurtures the careers of singers (the ENO Harewood Artist programme) and conductors (the Charles Mackerras Fellowship).

Our ongoing support and development of British talent meant 80% of the cast in the 2017-18 season were British or British trained. That’s important to us and is fundamental to our ethos of giving new talent their break.

Our home has been the London Coliseum for 50 years this season, and we are committed to cherishing and continuing to develop this national treasure.

In April 2018 ENO was readmitted to the ACE National Portfolio, entering into a four year funding agreement with ACE; delivering public value is at the centre of all we do.

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 a 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.

ENO is about opera for everyone.