Arts: Opera drama as director of ENO leaves post

Dennis Marks has resigned as head of the English National Opera. The sudden decision has taken the world of opera by surprise. David Lister looks at what might lie behind the decision to quit the troubled institution.
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The Independent Online
The decision by Dennis Marks to leave his position as general director of the English National Opera marks the end of a four-year period which has seen the company constantly criticised and failing to match the reputation it gained in the Eighties.

Most particularly, it reflects the failure of Mr Marks to achieve his dream of moving the company from its home at the London Coliseum into a new purpose-built theatre.

The ENO has applied for lottery money to move into a new home, but the plan has been attacked by former arts minister David Mellor and by members of the ENO's own audience. Though renovations are needed to the Coliseum, many believe its location on the edge of Trafalgar Square and a main line station is ideal.

The ENO board met earlier this week and the proposed move was discussed. According to one source, the board was beginning to have doubts about the proposed relocation, and this may have hastened Mr Marks's decision to leave the company and concentrate on projects in film and television. He was at the BBC before joining ENO.

The board was also said to be unhappy that the company had not yet received Arts Council "stabilisation funding" from the lottery, and to have felt that concentration on moving location may have led to this.

There has also been criticism that the company failed to project itself sufficiently as "the people's opera" at a time when the Government was admonishing the Royal Opera for not fulfilling that role.

Paul Daniel, who joined the company as music director from Opera North only last month, will take over the artistic leadership of the company until a replacement is found.

Leading contenders for the job are likely to include Patrick Deuchar, who recently resigned his position as chief executive of the Royal Albert Hall after a successful period there, and Nicholas Snowman, head of the South Bank Centre, who this week was disappointed to learn that the Arts Council had deferred his lottery bid for a redevelopment of the Centre. Paul Daniel may also be considered.

Dennis Marks said yesterday: "It has been a privilege and an inspiration to be part of English National Opera for the past four years. I leave behind 500 colleagues whose dedication and talent is unsurpassed in the operatic world. With Paul Daniel now at the artistic helm, they can every confidence that ENO's special contribution to the nation's artistic life will grow and flourish."