The company plans to axe 19 posts and employ its remaining musicians on part-time contracts.
A trio of music directors have warned that proposed cuts to the chorus and orchestra of the English National Opera (ENO) will “lead to the demise” of the music company.
In a letter printed in The Times, Edward Gardner and Sir Mark Elder, both former music directors of the ENO, and Sir Antonio Pappano, the current music director of the Royal Opera House, write that a planned relocation to outside of London is not “levelling up” but “the killing off of the art form”.
On Sunday night, the ENO said it was “surprised” to learn that its music director Martyn Brabbins, who has been in the position since 2016, had “decided to end his tenure … so abruptly”.
Brabbins’ departure followed the announcement of a proposal to axe 19 orchestral positions and employ its remaining musicians on part-time contracts, a move the Musicians’ Union says it will reject.
A statement from ENO said it is “having to re-evaluate our employment levels” following a reduction in the funding from Arts Council England (ACE) and understands that this is a “very challenging and stressful time”.
The letter in the Times says the cuts “will put a stranglehold on the artistic future of the company, wherever it is based”.
It reads: “We are devastated to hear of the proposed cuts to the chorus and orchestra of English National Opera.
“We should all be clear: if these plans go through, it will lead to the demise of this great company.
“An opera company is defined by its chorus and orchestra — their passion, expertise and knowledge. ENO is among the best in the world. These groups are built over decades of shared experience.
“They have collective skills that cannot be resurrected. Many of these highly trained musicians and singers will not be able to continue in their jobs.
“Anyone who can find alternative employment will.
“A relocation is apparently planned by 2029. These cuts will put a stranglehold on the artistic future of the company, wherever it is based.
“Opera should be available to everyone — this is the founding premise of ENO. Under these plans the company will be an empty shell of its former self. Large scale productions, for which ENO is famous, will be impossible.
“The recent revival of Peter Grimes is an outstanding example.
“This isn’t levelling up, it is the killing off of the art form. The Arts Council and the industry need to be honest about the effect of these cuts.
“And we plead with them to reconsider their support or the work of this great company will be irretrievably lost.”
Last November it was announced that the ACE was pulling funding from the ENO, but was offering £17 million over three years on the condition the orchestra relocates outside London.
ACE said in July that it had adjusted funding plans to allow ENO until 2029 for a move out of London.
It was also confirmed that ENO will receive £24 million from ACE between 2024 and 2026 to deliver a “substantial opera season every year” in London, as well as establish a new main base outside the capital.
An ACE spokesperson said: “We understand this is a challenging period of change for the English National Opera and its people.
“While we do not get involved in the day-to-day running of organisations, or the contractual arrangements they make with their staff, we have said that we want our investment to build sustainable businesses that are able to offer well paid work for as many people as possible.
“In total, we are planning to invest £35.5 million in the ENO between 2023-26 and we have made it clear that we do not have additional funding available to support them and other National Portfolio organisations facing financial challenges, and we have ensured that the Musicians’ Union is aware of this reality.
“We continue to work closely with the ENO to agree how they would use the £24 million grant available for 2024-26 to develop a range of activity linked to their move to a new base outside London, alongside their programme at the Coliseum.”