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Why we welcome visiting companies to the London Coliseum

27th June 2018 in News

We’ve been asked by a few different people recently why it is that we’re hiring out the London Coliseum in the summer months. It’s really important to me that we are as transparent as possible, given that we are supported by public funds and because so many people feel so passionately about ENO.

First, let me state categorically that every single thing that we do at ENO is ultimately about creating brilliant opera that is open to everyone. There is no ulterior motive. Hundreds of gifted people here work hard to generate the funds that make this singular goal possible. Every single pound raised by a visiting company hire of the London Coliseum – any ballet or musical or other performance – goes straight back into the opera that we produce. That’s our only goal. It’s why I’m here and it’s what we all believe in.

In 2016 our annual public subsidy was cut by £5 million, to £12.38 million – still a significant amount (especially in a climate where some arts organisations have had to close) but almost a third less than ENO had previously. It’s important that people understand that we were simply not financially sustainable before this point. This subsequent change to our finances meant that ENO had to radically rethink the ways that it generated the money needed to put on the opera we are all so passionate about. The grant from Arts Council England (ACE) previously made up around 50% of ENO’s turnover, so ENO had to find ways to reduce this % in order to simply stay afloat. It was a challenging time for a lot of people in the opera world, but my predecessor made some radical changes that managed to bring the company back from the brink. Now the landscape is different. We have been financially secure for a number of years, box office is selling really well, and we are looking at new revenue streams in order to produce more opera. In our most recent annual report our ACE grant made up only 37% of ENO’s turnover, not the 50% it did previously, and that’s testament to strong opera seasons, great performances, and – importantly – because the Coliseum has been rented out to generate income that we can then in turn spend on opera. That’s why we need to ensure the Coliseum continues to make money.

The London Coliseum, London’s largest theatre, is ENO’s home. We will be performing nine productions there in the 2018/19 season, and ten in the 2019/20 season. After our ‘austerity year’ in 2016/17 we have been steadily increasing again the number of performances that we present in the Coliseum, from 73 in 2016/17 to 78 in 2017/18 to 85 in 2018/19. This remains a priority for us. In the season just ended, we were delighted that so many of our performances sold out, including performances of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Philip Glass’s Satyagraha and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, and that our average sold capacity increased from 67% to 72%. We are absolutely moving in the right direction and this growth feels hugely exciting.

There is also opera which works best in venues other than the Coliseum. It is vital that we continue to present really imaginative opera in creative ways that reach ever wider audiences. These non-Coliseum projects allow us to do this, collaborating with other venues and companies to present opera to arts-engaged audiences that may not have considered it before. This season we have worked with the Gate Theatre to produce Effigies of Wickedness, presented Acis and Galatea at our historic rehearsal studios in West Hampstead, have just opened a packed run of The Turn of the Screw with Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and look forward to sharing our performances of Paul Bunyan at Wilton’s Music Hall in September.

So, to be absolutely clear, the money generated from hiring out the Coliseum allows us to put on more of our exciting work elsewhere, to increase the number of performances we can present at the theatre itself, and also to remain financially sustainable. It allows us to continue to offer affordable tickets to our shows (500 tickets at £20 or less for every single ENO performance at the Coliseum – more than 42,000 across the season) and to reach more than 15,000 people each year with our learning and participation programme, ENO Baylis. We were gifted the London Coliseum with the intention that it be used to make opera accessible to the widest possible audience, and that is exactly how we continue to use it today.

Stuart Murphy (Chief Executive, ENO)