• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

Planned cuts to English National Opera's chorus come in addition to proposals to axe 19 jobs from its orchestra in an attempt to balance the books.

The top of the Colosseum, ENO's London venue
A member of ENO's chorus said proposals to sharply reduce the singers wages had come as an 'almighty shock'

Koscik.photos via Adobe Stock

English National Opera (ENO) wants to reduce the number of singers in its chorus and cut the salaries of remaining members, it has emerged.

Performers' union Equity says its members in the chorus have been told the proposals include reducing their contract length from 10 to six months of the year and a 40% cut in salary. It would also see a reduction in the size of the chorus on the new six-month "permanent" contracts to 36 singers, down from its current membership of 37 and three fixed-term fellowship positions. 

Details of the plans come after it emerged late last week that ENO intends to reduce the size of its orchestra, with the loss of 19 full-time orchestral positions and the remaining musicians being employed on part-time contracts.


ENO has said that the cuts are necessary as it “reevaluates [its] employment levels” following a reduction in funding from Arts Council England (ACE).

The company, which has until 2029 to move its headquarters out of London under ACE plans, said that after nine months of negotiations with the funding body, it has “reached a position where we are confident we can maintain a substantial level of operatic work – as opposed to the original reality of total redundancy across the entire company”.

An almighty shock

Responding to the plans, Ronald Nairne, Equity Deputy and member of the ENO chorus said:  "The depth of these proposals has come as an almighty shock and has caused deep upset and serious anxiety amongst the chorus for the security of our future. 

“Whilst we understand the ENO is under pressure from limited funding, we expect them to deliver a model which keeps ENO employees at its heart - this is essential to protect both ENO's artistic work and our futures."

This isn’t the first time that the opera company’s chorus has been involved in a pay dispute. In 2016, a strike by the singers was narrowly avoided when they negotiated a reduced pay package of £35,000 from ENO, down from £40,900.

They had been protesting against plans to cut pay by 25% and axe four jobs. A round of redundancies earlier this year resulted in the loss of three positions.

More recently, plans to move the company outside London have also been a cause of ongoing concern for the chorus. In a survey conducted by Equity, 82.1% of ENO chorus members said they would have to leave their jobs if the opera company relocated full-time or for the majority of their time outside London. 

Extremely worrying 

Paul W Fleming, Equity General Secretary, called ENO’s proposals “extremely worrying” and said the union plans to reject them when negotiations begin.

He said: “Given our recent campaigning work to deliver a positive outcome for the ENO and our members, we expect a period of negotiations held in good faith that will obtain a more positive outcome.

"When audiences and supporters celebrated further funding being made available to the ENO, they reasonably expected that this funding would preserve the company’s provision of affordable, accessible opera to new audiences in London and beyond by ENO’s highly specialised workforce. Cutting the ENO Chorus runs directly counter to this."

The proposed cuts prompted the resignation of ENO's Music Director, Martyn Brabbins, over the weekend in protest. Brabbins said the changes would “drive a coach and horses through the artistic integrity of the whole of ENO as a performing company".

'Demise of a great company'

    In a show of support for Brabbins, two of the company’s former Heads of Music,  Edward Gardner and Sir Mark Elder, and the Music Director of the Royal Opera House, Sir Antonio Pappano, have called for an intervention to prevent ENO's collapse.

    Writing in a joint letter published today (17 October) in The Times, the three conductors said: “We should all be clear: if these plans go through, it will lead to the demise of this great company.

    "An opera company is defined by its chorus and orchestra — their passion, expertise and knowledge. ENO is among the best in the world.”

    A headshot of Mary Stone