A bitter feud at the top of the English National Opera burst into the open yesterday after the outgoing chairman demanded that the artistic director be axed “for the very survival” of the organisation.
In a scathing letter, Martyn Rose – whose departure was announced last week – described artistic director John Berry as “the problem not the solution” and warned that millions of pounds had been lost on his watch.
Last night sources close to the ENO, based at The Coliseum in London, dismissed Mr Rose as a “disgruntled” figure on his way out of the institution, saying he had no support on the board.
The chairman’s animosity towards Mr Berry was revealed in a private letter sent to the ENO’s president Sir Vernon Ellis, which was written in mid-December and emerged over the weekend.
It is understood that the relationship between the two senior figures had deteriorated to the point of no return – culminating in Mr Rose’s ultimatum to the board to remove one of them.
Mr Rose leaves less than two years after his appointment as chairman. In his letter, which was seen by The Sunday Times, he warned that the opera “may already be past the point of no return” adding: “For the very survival of the ENO, Berry must leave, preferably soon.” It continued: “Let me be clear – John is in my mind the problem not the solution and no meaningful change will ever take place whilst he remains. Time is of the essence. We cannot wait any longer.”
Mr Rose went on to write that during the artistic director’s 10 years at the institution, £10m has been lost – “including a substantial amount of public money”. He also predicted that this year the ENO would lose a “wholly unsustainable” £1m.
Mr Berry declined to respond to the claims. But an ENO source said that the board was united in its support for the artistic director.
“There was no division in the board. Rose said: ‘It’s me or him’ and the board said: ‘Goodbye’,” the source added. “These sentiments come from a disgruntled chairman.”
An ENO spokesman said he did not recognise the figures quoted in the letter. The spokesman added that during the eight financial years of Mr Berry’s tenure the company had turned over an unrestricted surplus of £2.4m. The most recent financial year, which ended in April, turned over £208,000.
The ENO announced on Wednesday that Mr Rose was to step down as chairman on 15 February with Harry Brünjes, a trustee, becoming acting chairman.
Mr Brünjes underlined the financial position was positive and said audience numbers were up 11 per cent in the last financial year. “I am privileged to be leading a supportive and talented board of this world-class opera company into its next exciting chapter”.
The ENO suffered huge cuts from Arts Council England (ACE) in its three-year settlement announced last year, with funding slashed almost a third to £12.4m. ACE did provide a one-off payment of £7.6m, however.
The organisation maintains that the budget will be balanced in this financial year. Yet, already it has come up against funding issues as it was forced to pull a production of Orfeo at the Bristol Old Vic because of the expense of the production.Reuse content