Letter: Threat to the ENO

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Sir: I served as the honorary secretary of the board of directors of the English National Opera in the 1980s, and for a short period as a member of the board. I am well aware of the financial and other considerations that have led the Culture Secretary to propose the merging of the Royal Opera and the ENO at the redeveloped Royal Opera House.

However, I have no doubt that this would quickly destroy the ENO's distinct identity. As a third company sharing the new Covent Garden Theatre it would be impossible for it to maintain the audience and the mission that it has so successfully developed at the Coliseum.

This mission is both artistic and social. The artistic one is to present opera in a stimulating form in the language that its audience can understand. The social one is to make opera available at reasonable prices (the top price at the Coliseum has been held at barely 25 per cent of the top prices at the Royal Opera House) to as wide an audience as possible. Inevitably, because of the costs of touring, this has been mainly an audience from London and surrounding areas. But anyone who has regularly attended the Coliseum, or has taken part in the educational and community activities of its Bayliss Programme, can endorse what I say. I still have vivid memories, for example, of the rows of school children from Hackney, attending an opera performance for the first time, who sat enthralled during the hypnotic performances of Akhnaten.

It would be a tragedy to sacrifice these achievements by effectively abolishing the ENO as a distinct opera company. I very much hope, therefore, that before any final recommendations are made, Sir Richard Eyre, despite the very difficult financial issues involved, will consider every possible means of preserving the ENO (in my view, preferably still at the Coliseum site) as a separate entity.

Sir BRIAN UNWIN

Luxembourg

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