National Opera chairman quits

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The Independent Culture

The chairman of the English National Opera, Martin Smith, has quit his post following a flood of calls for his resignation.

Last week the Company's board of directors received an open letter from 10 well-known members of the art world calling for a change of leadership.

Mr Smith was appointed ENO chairman in 2001 and accepted an invitation to continue for a second term just nine months ago.

The investment banker's leadership style has been controversial ever since the departure of the ENO artistic director Nicholas Payne in 2002.

But the latest crisis and rumours of in-fighting began three weeks ago with the sacking of Sean Doran, the ENO chief executive and artistic director.

The ENO, which has been staging a new production of Madam Butterfly, was criticised for appointing Doran's successors without advertising the posts.

The ENO was bailed out of near bankruptcy by the Arts Council two years ago.

Mr Smith, who has been accused of being a "bully" and an "amateur", said in his resignation letter that he had been "damaged by a campaign against me".

He wrote: "Music and the arts are the major passions of my life, and ENO is an institution for which I have the greatest affection.

"It is clear now that my ability to continue helping ENO in future has been damaged by a campaign against me and that, however unjust I may feel this to be, a point has been reached where it would no longer serve the best interests of ENO for me to continue in office."

His letter added: "I find myself in a bizarre situation. The Company is in the best shape that it has been in for many years".

Yet he said, "certain members of the arts community" and the media were "campaigning with relentless vigour to force me to step down."

The ENO Board said that it accepted Mr Smith's resignation "with great regret".

It said the period under Mr Smith's chairmanship had been "one of extraordinary achievement for the Company both artistically and in the rebuilding of the organisation."

The English National Opera has appointed vice chairman Vernon Ellis to assume the role of acting chairman while a search for Mr Smith's replacement is carried out.

Mr Ellis, speaking on behalf of the Board, thanked Mr Smith for "his courage and continuing generosity."

He said: "The Board is deeply grateful to Martin Smith for his dedicated contribution to ENO during the past four and a half years and greatly regret the circumstances of his departure.

"His achievements as chairman of ENO should not be ignored."

His achievements included helping to secure the Sky & Artsworld sponsorship and being instrumental in successfully completing the Restoration of the London Coliseum, he said.

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