English National Opera's new music director Mark Wigglesworth resigns after just six months

Mr Wigglesworth says company is 'evolving now into something I don’t recognise'

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The Independent Culture

The beleaguered English National Opera has been hit by a crisis after its acclaimed new music director resigned after just six months.

Mark Wigglesworth, dubbed the opera company’s “best asset”, has announced that he is to step down after the current season, which ends in a few weeks. 

“He will continue to honour his contractual commitments as a conductor and looks forward to continuing to work with the wonderful musicians of ENO,” his statement said.

In a letter written to the ENO’s musicians, Mr Wigglesworth said the company was “evolving now into something I don’t recognise”.

This follows years of turmoil, infighting and funding cuts at the ENO that have left it in a precarious state. In recent weeks it only narrowly avoided its chorus going on strike in a dispute over pay.

The ENO confirmed Mr Wigglesworth’s decision to leave “despite the best efforts of the board and senior management to persuade him to remain”. 

Susan Bullock, a soprano, wrote on Twitter: “Shame on you, ENO management. You have just let your best asset walk out the door.” Barry Banks, a tenor, asked: “Can the company that we all love survive this?” 

The company is now left with no music director or artistic director, following John Berry’s departure from the latter role last year. That came after the chairman, Martyn Rose, and the executive director, Henriette Götz, left within a week of each other, having clashed with Mr Berry. 

One of the biggest blows to the organisation came last February when the Arts Council removed it from the national portfolio of arts organisations it funds. It has slashed its annual funding by £5m a year. 

Mr Wigglesworth joined the ENO in September, taking over from Ed Gardner. While the financial situation has been precarious in recent years, the artistic output has largely been commended by audiences and critics. 

ENO’s statement added: “We are disappointed that he will not be staying to lead the artistic forces through this particularly challenging period.” Mr Wigglesworth will return next season as a guest conductor for two productions. 

ENO’s new chief executive, Cressida Pollock, who joined from McKinsey, wrote her manifesto to save the company in The Independent, saying: “I can’t allow it to fail.”