The general director of the English National Opera, Nicholas Payne, unexpectedly resigned last night, amid speculation that he had clashed with the company's chairman, the businessman Martin Smith.
Mr Payne, a former head of the Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House, is highly respected. A number of controversial productions were staged during his time at the ENO – including a drug-fuelled Don Giovanni and A Masked Ball featuring a rape scene and the chorus in a public lavatory – but he had staged several well-received world premieres and he was expected to stay at Britain's second most important opera house for years to come. He also initiated the restoration of the London Coliseum, home of the ENO.
The ENO said last night that it was "reallocating" his responsibilities. Caroline Felton, who recently worked with the Welsh National Opera, was appointed acting managing director.Mr Payne has agreed to act as a consultant. One insider said: "There is no doubt there has been a clash of styles between Nicholas and Martin. Martin is very much a businessman chairman."
Mr Payne said: "I have developed great respect and affection for my colleagues at ENO over the last four years. I wish the company every success in the future."