July 10, 2015 / 11:40 AM / in 2 years

Artistic head of troubled English National Opera steps down

LONDON (Reuters) - The financially troubled English National Opera announced on Friday that its artistic director, John Berry, is stepping down after eight years in the job and 20 years with the ENO.

Berry’s departure comes after two of the company’s top managers resigned at the end of last year and earlier this year.

One of the managers, the ENO’s former chairman, Martyn Rose, said in a leaked letter that the company had lost 10 million pounds ($15.52 million) under Berry’s tenure.

Berry has refused to comment on the matter and the ENO said it did not recognize the figure and was expecting a balanced budget this year.

Shortly afterwards, Arts Council England took the unusual step of removing the ENO from the list of organizations that receive regular grants and instead offered “special funding arrangements” until it got its house in order.

In a statement released by the ENO, Berry said he was proud of his artistic achievements at the company, noting that recent productions of “Sweeney Todd” and a “Pirates of Penzance” directed by filmmaker Mike Leigh had packed the house and brought in people who had never been to the opera before.

He also won ecstatic reviews for a production of Wagner’s “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg”, the German opera in an English translation, earlier this season.

“After eight seasons leading the company artistically and as the award winning 14/15 season comes to a close, I am looking forward to spending the summer deciding on my next role. I look forward to remaining involved with ENO in the future, as an audience member and supporter,” Berry said.

Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, wished Berry well for the future and said his “track record for innovative and challenging work is well established and warmly welcomed across the global opera fraternity”.

”We’ll continue to work closely with ENO as they develop their business model and plans to bring excellent and exciting work to broader audiences,” Henley said.

Music critic Norman Lebrecht, on his widely read Slipped Disc website, applauded Berry as a person of vision who had “raised ENO high above its station” despite funding shortfalls.

He said Berry had tried to give ENO audiences productions on an artistic level with Milan’s La Scala or London’s Royal Opera, but had been hamstrung by state funding “pegged at two-thirds of Covent Garden’s subsidy” and by a lack of wealthy donors.

“In the end money speaks, talent walks. It’s a sad day for opera,” Lebrecht said.

Editing by Jon Boyle

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