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English National Opera plans to axe 19 posts in its orchestra, and make the chorus, orchestra and music staff part-time as part of efforts to adapt to lower levels of income.

Cast of English National Opera’s Iolanthe 2023 © Craig Fuller
English National Opera's Iolanthe 2023

© Craig Fuller

English National Opera (ENO) staff will go on strike next month on the opening night of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Following a ballot that closed yesterday (16 January), Performers’ Union Equity said that 100% of its members in the company’s chorus voted in favour of strike action on a 94% turnout.

In a separate ballot that closed on 21 December, 92% of Musicians' Union members who work in the orchestra and as music staff at the ENO responded, of which 93.48% voted yes to full strike action. 


Citing pressure on budgets, ENO wants to downsize its orchestra, with the loss of 19 full-time positions and the remaining musicians being employed on part-time contracts.

It also wants to reduce the number of singers in its chorus and slash the contract length of its remaining members from 10 to six months. Cuts to working hours and salaries for its backstage technical staff are also proposed.

The first day of full strike action for both unions has been set for Thursday 1 February, coinciding with the opening night of ENO’s production of The Handmaid’s Tale, which the unions have said will not go ahead if the strikes take place.

Ronald Nairne, ENO chorus member and Equity deputy, said: “It gives me no pleasure to vote for strike action – I joined the ENO chorus to sing, and to share opera with as many people as possible. 

“Management’s proposals to fire and rehire me and my colleagues with a 40% salary cut and worsened working conditions will make remaining in the chorus unsustainable for many. 

“I voted yes to taking strike action to force our management to reconsider their plans and come up with a different, more creative model that protects the workforce.”

'Threat to musicians' livelihoods'

Glen Sheldon, a violinist and Musicians’ Union steward at the ENO, said: “It is very rare for musicians to consider strike action – their whole purpose in life is to bring to the public wonderful music at the highest standard. 

“It simply cannot be right for a publicly-funded opera company to consider functioning with a half-time orchestra but full-time management. 

“The threat to our musicians’ livelihoods, homes and wellbeing threatens their very ability to continue in the profession to which they have devoted their lives. 

“This in turn threatens the quality and world-class standing of the ENO as a company. ENO is its performers – it must not be allowed to diminish to being just a brand.”