Musicians accept English National Opera deal ‘with heavy hearts’

The English National Opera (ENO) has reached an agreement with its orchestra musicians following proposed cuts.

The Musicians’ Union (MU) announced on Thursday that it had made a deal, which included a minimum redundancy payment, with the London Coliseum-based institution.

The agreement, which cancels a strike by the MU, also guaranteed seven months of work and “important improvements” to the proposed ENO contract.

MU general secretary Naomi Pohl said: “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with ENO for the orchestra, albeit a deal that our members have accepted with heavy hearts.

“It was clear that the current Arts Council England funding package and instruction to move out of London by 2029 did not provide for full-time jobs for ENO’s performers at the present time.

“This is a tragedy and we are worried about how our members will make ends meet over the next couple of transition years for the company.

“Our deal has focused on the best package achievable to try to keep the orchestra together.”

The MU added that its members, who would be made redundant and then rehired, wanted to be on full-time contracts and that the ENO “should be performing opera with its artistic forces year-round”.

MU members in the ENO music staff were “in the process of confirming details with ENO management” and performing arts and entertainment trade union Equity were still working “through the final details of their offer in the coming days”, they added.

The news comes after a planned strike by members of the ENO chorus for February 1 – the opening-night performance of The Handmaid’s Tale – was suspended a few days before, as they also reached an interim settlement.

Last month, ENO members of both MU and fellow trade union group Equity voted in favour of strikes after they accused the management of planning to make chorus, orchestra and music staff redundant and re-employ them for only six months a year.

English National Opera’s Messiah
The Musicians’ Union said it had made a deal with the London Coliseum-based institution (Ian West/PA)

The unions said that for some musicians in the orchestra, the proposal was to reduce their contracts even further with some being offered ad-hoc freelance work only.

The cuts result from plans to reduce the ENO’s opera season in London following a reduction in Arts Council England (ACE) funding, the unions said.

In November 2022, ACE offered the company £17 million over three years to relocate outside London after making the funding cut announcement.

Initially, ENO were set to move by 2026 but in July, ACE said that it had adjusted funding plans to allow ENO until 2029 to move out of London.

At the time, it was also confirmed that ENO would receive £24 million from ACE between 2024 and 2026 to establish a new main base and deliver a “substantial opera season every year” in London.

In December, it was announced that ENO had chosen Greater Manchester as its new main base.

ENO is one of many entertainment organisations looking at making cuts amid inflation and rising fixed costs.

An Arts Council England spokeswoman said: “We understand this is a challenging period of change for the English National Opera and its people, but we welcome the fact that Bectu, Equity and Musician’s Union have now reached an agreement with ENO’s management.

“This agreement, combined with our £24 million investment in the company over 2024-26, will mean that audiences in both Greater Manchester and London can look forward to exciting programmes of high-quality opera.”