English National Opera announces plans for more inclusive opera industry

Posted on 14 January 2020

The English National Opera has announced today (14 January 2020) a new phase in its diversification strategy aimed at making the opera industry more inclusive, accessible, and representative of the present society that we live in. The announcement comes just as the ENO enters the second half of its new season, beginning with Carmen opening at the London Coliseum on 29 January 2020.

Pictured above: Images from the 2015 ENO production of Carmen taken by © Alastair Muir.
The production was accused by audiences of whitewashing as the character of Carmen, meant to be a gypsy, was oddly portrayed as white and blonde. It appears casting for the new 2020 production of the George Bizet opera has brought it back to its roots. 

ENO announces new phase of efforts to make opera more accessible and representative

As part of the new phase, the ENO will recruit five new string players from a Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background in a bid to ensure its Orchestra more equally represents the makeup of today's society. The ENO's goal is to achieve more diversity within the company in order to create specific opportunities for under-represented minorities both in London and nationwide. Candidates who are selected to join the ENO Orchestra Fellowship for BAME string players will begin at the start of the 2020/21 season on a 12-month fixed-term contract.

When and what was the first phase of the ENO's new commitment to diversity?

The move marks the second phase in the ENO's commitment to achieving greater diversity within classical music and the opera industry. The first phase was announced in January of last year in which they were to hire four new BAME Chorus Fellows, of which performers Isabelle PetersJames LiuJulia Daramy-Williams, and Satriya Krisna were chosen. The quartet has been performing since August and has featured in the 2019/20 ENO season.

What else has the English National Opera been doing for diversity and accessibility?

The ENO has also launched four annual ENO Director Observaterships, offering emerging BAME directors the unique chance to work side-by-side with world-class opera directors, observing the entire evolution of direction an opera production from beginning to end. Paid participants are also provided with insight into the daily workings of a large national opera company from company office and stage management to production and technical work. 

Abdul Shayek, Annie-Lunnette Deakin-FosterAshen Gupta, and Femi Fagunwa have already observed last year's Orpheus in the Underworld and are now set to observe three of the season's forthcoming productions, including the Czech opera Rusalka, Carmen, and The Marriage of Figaro. This observatership scheme will continue for the upcoming 2020/21 season.

Since the start of the 2018 ENO season, the opera company has also put together screened auditions for the orchestra for the first time ever as part of its new recruitment process. This has also resulted in an expansion of its chorus auditions.

What the ENO and others have said about the efforts thus far

Martyn Brabbins, ENO Music Director, said: "Here at ENO we are committed to contributing to the development of a more diverse classical music industry. We strongly believe by introducing the ENO Orchestra Fellowship for BAME String Players we will make an important and much-needed difference to the opera industry, and further our belief that opera should be open to everybody."

Stuart Murphy, CEO, ENO said: "This is another vital step by English National Opera to making the opera industry more inclusive. We are proud to be proactively encouraging a more diverse workforce in the classical music industry and hope that other UK institutions follow suit."

John Shortell, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Official, Musicians' Union said: "The MU is delighted that ENO are tackling the issue of diversity in orchestras head-on. It's essential that orchestras reflect our diverse society and positive action initiatives, such as ENO's, are a vital first step in making orchestras more representative and help level the playing field for BAME musicians. The MU fully supports the initiative and we look forward to seeing the impact ENO's fantastic work has on the orchestral sector."

Claire Mera-Nelson, Director of Music for Arts Council England said: "The Arts Council welcomes the next step in ENO's plan to diversify its workforce. More needs to be done to address the significant barriers that Black and minority ethnic musicians face in joining an orchestra and ensuring that it better reflects the society we live in."

What lies ahead for the English National Opera?

Ten per cent of the ENO's audience during the 2018/19 season was of BAME origin. The UK opera company will continue in its endeavours to broaden its ranks via its audience development strategy, a large part of which will include ensuring larger and more diverse representation on stage within its productions.

The company's Learning and Participation programme ENO Baylis has enabled it to engage with people from many different BAME backgrounds and areas of social deprivation, introducing these people to the opera art form and providing them with support should they be interested in beginning a career in the arts. So far, more than 15,000 people have watched ENO productions free of charge via the ENO Baylis giveaways. The company has also brought opera to UK schools, allowing for more than 5,000 schoolchildren from schools with above-average BAME representation the unique experience to witness an opera show first-hand. 

ENO productions coming soon to the London Coliseum

🎭 Carmen (29 January - 27 February 2020)
Perhaps you don't remember the name of it, but you've certainly heard "Habanera" before, one of the most famous opera arias of all time featuring an infectious rhythm that will easily get stuck in your head for days. George Bizet's world-famous 1875 opera remains one of the most frequently staged operas in opera repertoires all around the globe. Also featuring the arias "Toreador's Song" and "Flower Song", Carmen is surely an unmissable production for both opera lovers and beginners to opera.

🎭 Luisa Miller (12 February - 6 March 2020)

🎭 Madam Butterfly (26 February - 17 April 2020)

🎭 The Marriage of Figaro (14 March - 18 April 2020)

🎭 Rusalka (28 March - 15 April 2020)

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Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

Ephram is a jack of all trades and enjoys attending theatre, classical music concerts and the opera.