Under pressure, English National Opera will move to Manchester
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Under pressure, English National Opera will move to Manchester
Patrons outside the English National Opera in London on Dec. 7, 2022. Urged to develop a new model by Arts Council England, the opera company will move its base out of London, but it still plans to present opera there. (Lauren Fleishman/The New York Times)

by Javier C. Hernández



NEW YORK, NY.- For decades, English National Opera, the acclaimed British opera company, has made its home in London. There, it has drawn audiences, nurtured singers and developed a host of major productions, many of which have traveled the world.

But facing financial woes — and pressure from Arts Council England, which cut off its vital government subsidy last year and urged it to develop “a new business model” that might include a move away from London — English National Opera announced Tuesday that it would move its main base about 200 miles north to Manchester by 2029.

The company said in a news release that it would still present a “substantial opera season” at the London Coliseum, its home since 1968, which it owns and operates. But it will now work to develop new audiences and programs in Manchester.

Jenny Mollica, interim CEO of English National Opera, said the company and Manchester shared a vision of working to “open up new possibilities for opera in people’s lives.”

“We look forward to embarking on new adventures with partners, artists and audiences across Greater Manchester as we create a range of operatic repertoire at a local, national and international scale,” she said in a statement.

English National Opera has been in a state of flux since Arts Council England announced last year that it was shutting off its grant to the company, which was worth 12.4 million pounds a year, or about $15.6 million. The Arts Council instead gave it one-time grant to help it develop a new model, possibly away from London.

At the time, English National Opera’s leaders, as well as many artists and audience members, voiced opposition to the idea of relocating the company, which traces its roots to 1931, when Lilian Baylis, a theater owner, established the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company to bring the art form to a wider audience. In 1945 the company gave the premiere of the groundbreaking Benjamin Britten opera “Peter Grimes.” The company found a way to serve audiences, even while competing with the bigger Royal Opera.

The move out of London was resisted by many. Stuart Murphy, who served as English National Opera’s CEO until the end of August, initially described the plan as “absurd” and “insane,” the BBC reported last year.

The uproar soured relations with officials in Manchester, which made the short list for the company’s new base, along with Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham. It revived debate about whether smaller cities could support a major opera company.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said last year that English National Opera was not welcome if the company was having doubts.

“If they think we are all heathens here, that nobody would go, I’m afraid it doesn’t understand us and therefore it doesn’t deserve to come here,” Burnham was quoted as saying in a report in The Guardian.

But the company and Manchester eventually found a path forward. Burnham on Tuesday described English National Opera as “one of the most exciting cultural institutions in the country.”

“We’re immensely proud to be able to bring them to a new home here,” he said in a statement. “Greater Manchester’s world-renowned history of radical art, activism and affecting change, and the cultural renaissance taking place across our towns and cities, makes it the ideal home.”

English National Opera has long played an important role in the global opera industry. After the cuts by the Arts Council were announced last year, dozens of leading cultural figures — including Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager, and Yuval Sharon, the artistic director of Detroit Opera — signed a letter to The Times of London, warning of a wider impact.

The company has faced leadership churn in recent years. In October, Martyn Brabbins, English National Opera’s music director since 2016, resigned suddenly. He said that he could not “in all conscience continue to support the board and management’s strategy for the future of the company,” including cuts to the orchestra and chorus.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










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