lietofinelondon

A crueler month for ENO

In Classical Music, Opera on March 10, 2015 at 10:45 am

If ever the history of ENO is written again then the last decade or more will be one of tumult as well as artistic endeavor and in some cases, daring.

But even after the self-inflicted drama of the last few weeks, next month, in the words of TS Elliott could prove to be ENO’s ‘cruelest month’. Less than a month after Cressida Pollock will have formally walked into the foyer at the London Coliseum, together with John Berry, the company will unveil its 2015/2016 season.

Her start has been less than auspicious. Hours before her appointment was announced under the auspices of Arts Council England, a open letter was published signed by a number of artistic directors and big wigs of major opera houses from the US and Europe.

Fortuitous? No. An amateur Machiavellian tactic? Most decidedly. Open letters of that ilk take time – to persuade the signatories as well as agree the wording.

It’s hard not to see the hand of John Berry – or more likely John-Berry-cum-Borkowski – in this less than veiled shot across Pollock’s bows.

When Arts Council England reduced its commitment to fund ENO from three to two years is also stipulated that the company must do two things. First, recruit a suitably qualified chief executive able to develop and deliver a new business model for the company and secondly strengthen the company’s financial operations.

Berry clearly thought – or was led to believe – that a pre-emptive strike to establish his authority sine qua non was necessary so that he could put Pollock in place before she has started.

Sadly all it has done is reinforce the management malaise at St Martin’s Lane with Berry leading from the front. From within the company itself, I hear that only Berry benefits from having the company spread across a handful of properties with divide and conquer being his modus operandi. He is able to isolate and sideline; cajole and coerce and more alarming find numerous places to bury his head in the sand.

And what of Cressida Pollock? On paper she seems very capable and fulfills the condition of ACE to appoint a chief executive who could potentially deliver a new business model and successful operational framework.

But is she a leader? As well as John Berry she must stand firm against a Board that has a history of rudely stepping beyond its governance and interfering. As a management consultant she knows that she must be quick to set up a team that not only looks after business as usual, but also stands above and apart from the day to day and looks doggedly at what future ENO can have.

No doubt some people will question whether she is an opera lover. Does she need to be? The CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t need to eat his wares, he just needs to know how to sell them.

For Pollock to do her job effectively, John Berry can be left as ENO’s Master Baker but she must have full executive authority. Allow him to create confections of varying quality and substance, but give her absolute power to review, reform and redefine the company.

I am not saying that Pollock and Berry might not be in sync in their thinking but Berry’s role must be to work within the constraints that the business model will dictate. Hard choices need to be faced and solutions, however unpalatable, need to be found because ENO must operate like a business. If the company is to survive in the long-term and not stumble forever on, then bold leadership needs to take rein of St Martin’s Lane so that creative genius can still flourish.

This isn’t a case of future-proofing English National Opera – what artistic organisation can be future-proofed in the current economic climate? – but rather tackling long-established and deeply rooted fault lines to give the company at least a fighting chance.

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