The English National Opera (ENO) is embarking on a groundbreaking journey, bidding farewell to London and embracing Manchester as its new home. This pivotal move, prompted by the Arts Council England’s directive, positions Manchester, a city rich in cultural diversity but without its own resident opera company, at the forefront of the UK’s classical music scene.
A Bold Decision: Manchester Over London
In a significant shift, the ENO has chosen Manchester from a list of five potential UK cities, which included Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, and Nottingham. This decision, unfolding a year after the Arts Council England’s stark warning to withdraw the ENO’s £12 million annual funding unless they relocated from London, marks a new chapter for the company.
The Journey North: A Timeline
The transition to Manchester will progress gradually, culminating by 2029. Manchester, the largest European city without a dedicated opera company, will host the ENO at Aviva Studios and the Lowry Theatre in Salford. Although the ENO won’t have a permanent stage in Manchester, these venues will become their new performance spaces.
Facing Funding Challenges
The move coincides with financial pressures, including threats of severe funding cuts. In October 2023, Martyn Brabbins, the then-Music Director, stepped down to protest the proposed budget reductions, which included cutting 19 full-time positions in the orchestra and shifting the remaining musicians to short-term contracts.
A Statement of Resilience
Jenny Mollica, the ENO’s interim chief executive, reflects on this transition: “As we navigate through significant change, today’s announcement is a defining moment for our remarkable company. Our future direction will enable us to broaden our role as a national institution, creating work for a wider audience across the country, while maintaining our annual season at the London Coliseum.”