With a looming deficit only staved off by the generosity of an anonymous donor, a third of the seats empty each night, and widespread criticism of some dubious artistic decisions, ENO had to do something to dig themselves out the quicksand.
The 2014-15 season, announced today, seems designed to place quality above novelty (at long last) and, more importantly in the short term, to put bums back on seats. Some might call it boring. I think it's a long-overdue recognition of limitations.
Yes, I would love it if London had an opera company with the vision and adventurousness of Amsterdam or Brussels. Wouldn't we all?
But that requires a leadership with the talent to separate the artistic wheat from the chaff with considerably greater success than ENO's John Berry has ever evidenced. This season's decision to hire directors of proven ability for works of proven appeal recognises the creative issue as well as the ever-tightening financial constraints on the company.
The repertoire has broad appeal, with Otello, the WNO Meistersinger and The Queen of Spades heading up the new productions. Revivals are mostly crowd-pleasers like Figaro, La traviata, Carmen and La boheme. Tucked away are new works from John Adams and Tansy Davies.
The director roster features the experienced hands of Richard Jones, David Alden, Peter Sellars (twice each) plus Nicholas Hytner and Fiona Shaw. Hytner's Xerxes is revived 30 years after its debut - as a recent review of the reissued DVD put it "The staging has weathered well, still looking fresh and inventive and superior to many more recent shtick-laden Baroque productions". A controversial debutant is Mike Leigh, who tackles The Pirates of Penzance. However, as a prominent Gilbert and Sullivan fan/expert of many years' standing, he's well placed to handle the problematic genre .
Instead of concrete bunkers or modishly microscopic theatres, this year's offsite venues are the eminently practical Barbican and Bristol Old Vic.
Top-class singing talent includes Stuart Skelton, Alice Coote, Dame Felicity Palmer and Iain Paterson. Anticipating a regular complaint, ENO counter that "85 per cent of the talent on stage in 2014/15 will be British or British trained". There are even two female conductors - Keri-Lynn Wilson for The Girl of the Golden West and Joana Carneiro for The Gospel According to the Other Mary.
Someone, somewhere has been listening.
But not to all the complaints. Despite the empty seats and the consequently regular discounting, ENO has put its prices up yet again. Want to see Meistersinger on a Saturday night? That'll be £155 for the stalls please - and £40 even in the balcony. Regardless of whether it's 'worth it' (always a dubious evaluation) many people simply can't or won't stump up that much. So don't expect the discounts to end any time soon.
- Otello (Verdi)
13 Sept – 17 Oct, 10 performances. ENO Screen live cinema relay 14 Oct.
- Xerxes (Handel)
15 Sept – 3 Oct, 6 performances
- The Girl of the Golden West (Puccini)
2 Oct – 1 Nov, 9 performances
- The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart)
16 Oct – 23 Nov, 11 performances
- La Boheme (Puccini)
29 Oct – 6 Dec, 14 performances
- The Gospel According To The Other Mary (Adams)
21 Nov – 5 Dec, 6 performances
- The Way Back Home (Joanna Lee)
11 Dec – 23 Dec (performed at the Young Vic). ENO Screen live cinema relay from December 2014
- The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (Wagner)
7 Feb – 10 Mar, 8 performances
- La traviata (Verdi)
9 Feb – 13 March, 9 performances. ENO Screen live cinema relay 11 Mar
- The Indian Queen (Purcell)
26 Feb - 14 Mar, 8 performances
The above productions go on sale in the next few weeks; booking for the remainder (below) will open in the Autumn of 2014:
- Between Worlds (Tansy Davies)
Opens 11 Apr, 8 performances (performed at The Barbican)
- Orfeo (Monteverdi)
Opens 16 April, 7 performances (performed at Bristol Old Vic)
- The Pirates of Penzance (Gilbert & Sullivan)
Opens 9 May, 19 performances. ENO Screen live cinema relay 19 May
- Carmen (Bizet)
Opens 20 May, 14 performances. ENO Screen live cinema relay 1 July
- The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)
Opens 6 June, 9 performances