English National Opera (ENO) today (Monday 28 January) announces a key step forward to making the opera industry more accessible and representative of the society in which we live.
ENO is to recruit four new choristers from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background in a concerted effort to ensure our Chorus more fairly reflects our society. They will join the ENO Chorus for the 19/20 Season for a 9 month paid contract with the view to extending for a further season. This means that for the first time ever, ENO’s Chorus will more closely echo the proportion of people from diverse backgrounds that currently make up the UK population (currently 13%). ENO are also actively seeking to audition and employ Choristers from a BAME background for ‘extra chorus’ positions.
In addition, ENO is launching three annual ENO Director Observerships, offering emerging BAME directors the opportunity to work alongside world-renowned opera directors, observing the entire process of directing an opera from start to finish. Participants (who will be paid) will also be given an insight into the day to day workings of a large national company, from stage management and company office to technical and production.
From the start of the 2018 Season, ENO put into place, for the first time ever, blind auditions for the orchestra, as part of its recruitment process.
Stuart Murphy, ENO CEO, said: “I am proud of ENO’s founding principle to provide opera for everyone and hope today’s announcement shows we continue to be committed to making this a reality in three key areas - reflecting diversity in both our performers and non-performers, and in our audiences. If we get this right, it will liberate new pools of talent in the UK and bring a greater and more varied stories to our stage. Today’s announcement follows the launch before Christmas of our scheme giving Free Tickets to Under 18’s on Saturdays, for which almost 1,000 tickets have been claimed.”
Dr Harry Brünjes, Chairman, ENO said: “As with the Under 18 free ticket scheme, the board believes this is an excellent and exciting announcement. Stuart Murphy and his colleagues have our full support in their vision for the ENO of the future.”
Joyce Wilson, London Area Director, Arts Council England, said: ‘Enhancing the diversity of the UK’s arts and cultural offer is key to its continuing success and growth. I am pleased to see such a strong statement of intent from English National Opera to the creation of a more representative company, and its commitment to the principle of opera for everyone.’
Hilary Hadley, Head of Live Performance, Equity said: “Equity applauds the initiative taken by ENO to improve access by BAME singers to the work of the ENO Chorus. It is important that the world of Opera in the UK also reflects the rich diversity of our population, and Equity believes targeted initiatives such as the ENO BAME Chorus Fellowship are an effective first step towards redressing any such imbalance”.
Part of ENO’s development of this strategy followed detailed collaboration with the National Opera Studio on their Diverse Voices Programme, as well as ENO’s Harewood artists and the cast of ENO’s recent hit production of Porgy and Bess. As part of ENO’s commitment to representation, ENO provided the cast with access to two weeks coaching as well as the opportunity to audition for more than 20 key figures from across the UK opera industry.
In the 17/18 season, 10% of ENO’s audience was BAME, up from 3% in the previous year. The company will continue to increase diversity via its audience development strategy, a big part of which will be ensuring bigger and broader representation on stage within our productions: half of the ensemble for Dido and Aeneas, our upcoming collaboration with Unicorn Theatre, are from a BAME background, for instance. Another of our upcoming collaborations, Noye’s Fludde with Theatre Royal Stratford East, will combine the talents of professional singers, actors and musicians with those of schoolchildren and the local community.
Through ENO Baylis, the company’s Learning and Participation programme, we continually engage with people from areas of social deprivation or BAME backgrounds to introduce them to opera, and provide support to those who are interested in developing a career in the arts. To date, more than 15,000 people have watched ENO for free via Baylis ticket giveaways, and we have brought opera into schools, allowing more than 5000 schoolchildren from schools with a higher than average BAME representation to experience opera.