Martin Smith’s ENO birthday celebrations Martin Smith, the meddling chairman of the English National Opera, has had a disastrous press, and it is doubtful that the appointment of Se?n Doran as artistic director will improve things. Doran is an unknown quantity and, arriving from the Perth Arts Festival, conspicuously lacks the experience of a great artistic director. It will take a while for Smith to regain the public goodwill he squandered in his personality clash with ousted ENO general director Nicholas Payne. But now that the fuss is over, it’s worth remembering that Payne’s contract was up for renewal anyway in 2004 and, as Smith celebrates his 60th birthday by conducting the Messiah (for which he has been taking conducting lessons), serious congratulations are in order. His vindication is the staggering scale of the Arts Council of England’s ?12m rescue for the ENO. Smith has found the key to the organisation’s long-term health. Soon, nobody will doubt the depth of his musical involvement and his passionate commitment to a range of organisations: ENO being the latest in a line that includes the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Prussia Cove, and the Bath MozartFest.
The ENO’s tendency for disastrous deficit stems from the kind of large-scale work everyone wants it to do at the Coliseum, with funding implications that have never been properly acknowledged by the Arts Council. Occasional surpluses have long helped disguise the reality that artistic ambition and accessible ticket prices require increased subsidy-about ?1m more annually. Smith is grasping the nettle. Hence the determination to cut staff by around 30 per cent. There are strings attached to the rescue, but ENO’s board, with Smith setting a personal example, have earned brownie points by chipping in ?7m of their own cash towards the current refurbishment. Transforming the vast dowdy balcony should push ticket sales towards 90 per cent of capacity, rather than the current 67 per cent. The ENO is not extravagant. Most of its staff are paid peanuts: exploited for their ferocious loyalty. Altering contracts and perhaps achieving Sunday performances, without the extra pay unions have always demanded, will impress this government. A debt-free ENO can prove its artistic and financial responsibility. It’s not El Dorado. But a stable ENO future will be a bankable achievement for the company’s thin-skinned chairman.
Prospect to blame for short story decline Here at Prospect, we recently found our amour…