English National Opera has chosen Manchester as the location of its new headquarters, after funders said it must move its base outside of London in order to avoid drastic financial cuts.
The company, known as the ENO, had a shortlist of five locations where it was considering setting up a new base. Among them were Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham. However, Manchester – the biggest city in Europe without a resident opera company – has won them over.
The move has been confirmed just one year after Arts Council England (ACE) removed the London-based ENO from the national portfolio and said it would lose all of its £12m funding unless it moved out of the capital.
The decision had been widely criticised, with prominent music directors such as Edward Gardner, Sir Mark Elder and the Royal Opera House’s Sir Antonio Pappano writing in an open letter in October that the cuts would lead to the “killing off” of the art form.
However, on Tuesday 5 December, the ENO said it had agreed on a partnership with the Greater Manchester city region.
In a statement, the company said it was excited by “the potential opportunities to collaborate with the region’s vibrant arts ecology, and the chance to inspire and create work with and for new audiences and communities in Greater Manchester”.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said that there was pride in bringing the ENO to its new home, and called the company “one of the most exciting cultural institutions”.
“We’ve worked closely with them to set out a shared vision for a future in our city region, where they can continue making groundbreaking opera, foster new collaborations with artists across the North and bring their award-winning learning and wellbeing programmes to communities here.
“Greater Manchester’s world-renowned history of radical art, activism, and affecting change, and the cultural renaissance taking place across our towns and cities, makes it the ideal home for the ENO. We can’t wait to welcome them and see where this new partnership takes us.”
The ACE is thought to have introduced the changes following pressure from the government to encourage “levelling up” by moving funding to other regions outside of London. However, after an outcry from the music community, it was announced in July that the ENO had been granted a subsidy of £24m until 2026 and had its relocation deadline extended to 2029 after the company experienced difficulties.
The ENO has said its new base will be fully established by March 2029 and will stage productions across the city region before that date. It also said that it will continue to have a “substantial” annual season beyond 2019, at the Coliseum in London, where it is currently based.
In October, the ENO was thrown into further chaos after its music director Martyn Brabbins suddenly resigned over the then proposed cuts.
Brabbins, who had been the ENO’s music director between October 2016 and October 2023, said upon his resignation that proposals by management in the wake of Arts Council England “interference” would “drive a coach and horses” through the company’s artistic integrity.
“I cannot in all conscience continue to support the board and management’s strategy for the future of the company,” Brabbins, 64, said in a statement released by his management.
“While my feelings on this have been developing for some time, it reached its nadir this week, with the internal announcement of severe cuts to the orchestra and chorus from the 2024-25 season,” added Brabbins.
“Although making cuts has been necessitated by Arts Council England’s interference in the company’s future, the proposed changes would drive a coach and horses through the artistic integrity of the whole of ENO as a performing company, while also singularly failing to protect our musicians’ livelihoods.
“This is a plan of managed decline, rather than an attempt to rebuild the company and maintain the world-class artistic output for which ENO is rightly famed.”
He continued: “I urge ACE to reassess this situation and recognise the devastating implications their funding decisions will have on the lives of individual musicians, as well as the reputation of the UK on the international stage.”