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Big rise in first-timers as ENO wins new audiences for unfamiliar operas

The English National Opera claimed yesterday to have made a major stride in attracting new audiences to see new and unfamiliar works .

The triumph of the 1999/2000 financial year was Mark-Anthony Turnage's The Silver Tassie, which is ENO's most successful new commission ever, reaching a peak of 98 per cent paid attendance at its final performance, with an average paid attendance of 75 per cent over its run.

ENO's chief executive, Nicholas Payne, said that first-timers now represent 15 per cent of its audience, an increase of 50 per cent on last year. Some 16 per cent of the audience for The Silver Tassie were first-time visitors to ENO.

Ticket sales for ENO productions in general showed an increase in the public's appetite for less familiar works, including Poulenc's The Carmelites (78 per cent attendance); Handel's Semele (83 per cent attendance).

Mr Payne said ENO had not suffered from the re-opening of the Royal Opera House. "Perhaps it's early days to really test this, but I firmly believe that as long as the two houses put on works that the public wants to see ... there will be a sufficient audience for both." He also said bookings via ENO's website, launched a year ago, account for 3.5 per cent of its ticket sales.

The company announced yesterday that it will present a new Ring Cycle, conducted by Paul Daniel, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and designed by Anthony Ward. The cycle will run from 2003 until 2005. The ENO will prepare for this with concert performances starting next January.

The company will mount an Italian season this autumn and next, which will include eight new productions a combination of masterworks and rarities ranging from Dallapiccola's The Prisoner, an intense study of the last hopes and fears of one man, to the full-scale splendour of Verdi's Requiem.

As part of its educational work the ENO will put on an community opera, The Palace in the Sky, at the Hackney Empire, east London, in November. Based on the Tower of Babel story, it will be a large-scale opera by the composer Jonathan Dove and the librettist Nick Dear. Performances will involve 150 local people, including groups from primary and secondary schools, youth groups, adults, elders and a multi-cultural range of musical groups, incorporating a diversity of musical styles.