Not every opera company shares the rude financial health of the Paris Opera.
A big thank you to reader Susan, who spotted that ENO's 2012 results were sneaked out a few days ago without fanfare. When you see the numbers, you won't be surprised that ENO wanted to keep a lid on them. They paint a disturbing picture of a company on the brink of a financial precipice - no exaggeration.
How could a company with an annual box office of less than £15m get into this state so quickly?
Well, 2012 production costs are up £1.58m on 2011 (despite slashing production staff numbers) while box office income is down £1.2m. As Susan points out, "that's a 13% collapse in box office income in only one year! Average attendance is down from 80% to 71% which means the Coliseum was on average nearly one-third empty at every performance. It seems the more ENO spent on its programme the less people wanted to see it."
And the people who did want to see it paid less for their tickets. 58,000 seats sold at £26 or less - that's nearly a third of the total audience of 188,000. ENO describe this as "the ambition to reach and develop new audiences." The rest of us know that a significant chunk must have been sold via the discount offers that I frequently mention here. The average price paid across the board was just £43 - a far cry from the advertised rates of £50 or more for most tickets.
What ENO clearly need to do - right now - is to halve ticket prices. Forget about gimmicky 'undress for opera' initiatives. The best way to prove to new audiences that opera isn't elitist is to stick an accessible price tag on it. An occupancy rise of just 10%, to 81%, would wipe out the annual deficit. With nearly a third of seats empty, there's nothing to lose.
Surprisingly, the Trustees say they have "a reasonable expectation that the Company and the Group have adequate resources to continue in operational existence for the foreseeable future."
Unless they know something they're not telling, it sure doesn't look that way.
Over to Susan again for the final word: "ENO's free reserves are down from £3.23m, built-up over the previous half a decade, to only £997k. That's over £2m of reserves used-up in a mere 12 months. In other words, another year like the last one and ENO will have a deficit that can't be met from its reserves and therefore, without another bail-out, the company will be forced to cease trading. Astonishingly, ENO's Board have not taken radical action and, equally astonishingly, the media have ignored this story of wanton failure. Also, where is the Arts Council? The final insult is the assertion within the Annual Report of "an ambitious and innovative artistic programme that continues to deliver public value". If this is public value, Greece is a high performing economy."