ENO board seeking solution to severe financial crisis: Recession and falling attendances leave company with pounds 2.3m deficit cause ENO to end year with debt of pounds 2.3m

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The Independent Online
THE BOARD of the English National Opera will meet later this month to discuss the worst financial crisis in the company's history, writes David Lister.

Falls in attendances and a pounds 1m loss for the company that spearheaded 'opera for the people' throughout the Eighties mean that the ENO ends this financial year with a total accumulated deficit of pounds 2.3m.

The board meeting, which is to be chaired by Lord Harlech on 27 April, will consider ways of alleviating the financial position and authorise a computerised database system for marketing and audience development. The board will also want firmer assurances in the future about companies renting the ENO's home, the London Coliseum, in the summer season.

The company was hit by losses after a visit from the Alvin Ailey American dance company, which dropped prices at the last minute to increase audiences. The group played to packed houses but lost pounds 60,000. The Berlin Ballet, which leased the Coliseum last summer, also left with debts of pounds 90,000, which are now the subject of court action.

The present team running the ENO, Peter Jonas, general director, Mark Elder, music director, and David Pountney, director of productions, all leave this summer to be replaced by Dennis Marks, formerly head of music at the BBC, as new general director, and Sian Edwards as new music director.

They will announce their programme for next year at a press conference in two weeks' and it is understood that they may avoid some of the more experimental type of productions, which have failed to bring in audiences during the recession. Top prices at the ENO have risen to pounds 39.

Paid attendances overall averaged just under 65 per cent. Much praised productions from previous years such as David Pountney's Carmen and Jonathan Miller's Rigoletto topped the attendance league with 87 per cent and 84 per cent of capacity respectively. But Hansel and Gretel achieved only 38 per cent, Wozzeck 41 per cent, The Bacchae 44 per cent, and Ken Russell's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Princess Ida around 60 per cent.

A spokeswoman said yesterday: 'With people clearly only able to afford to go so often at the moment they are choosing the better-known operas and not taking risks.'

Sponsorship also fell pounds 200,000 short of the budgeted target. An Arts Council spokeswoman said: 'Any deficit in the order of pounds 1m is a matter of concern. But the reason is falling box office and not mismanagement.

'The company is looking at its marketing, programming and box office and we are confident that it will tackle this fall-off in box office which has been caused by the recession.'