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Welsh National Opera confirms strategic review is underway after open letter co-signed by former leaders says the conditions of Arts Council England’s funding includes reducing the number of full-time staff.

Wales Millennium Centre, home to Welsh National Opera

Min Jing via iStock

A group of classical music and opera professionals have penned an open letter stating the number of full-time members of Welsh National Opera’s (WNO) orchestra and chorus is to be cut to meet funding conditions imposed by Arts Council England (ACE).

Last year, WNO saw its annual income from ACE cut from £6.24m to £4m a year for 2023-26. It has since received the lion’s share of ACE’s Transform Funding - a stream set up to help organisations who received less National Portfolio funding adjust to lower levels of income – having been granted £3.25m through the programme, equivalent to almost 40% of the amount available.

The open letter, signed by 19 people including six former WNO leaders but none of the opera’s current staff, says the “proposed transition will involve reductions in the number of full-time members of the orchestra and chorus”.


“[This] will profoundly change the nature of the company as well as its capacity to deliver the education and community work that has benefitted so many young people and communities in Wales and the English cities to which the company tours,” the letter reads.

A WNO spokesperson told Arts Professional a strategic review is currently underway at the organisation, to take into account the impact of the pandemic, the current economic climate and a significant reduction in the opera’s public funding.

“The aim of this review is to ensure that our productions, concerts and programme and engagement activity is maintained and that WNO’s on and off-stage impact remains whilst the company operates as efficiently and flexibly as possible within the resources available,” they said.

The spokesperson also said they were unable to speculate on the particular outcomes of this review whilst the process is ongoing.

“We have been working closely with ACE since November to understand their funding decisions and to work towards a future plan which meets WNO’s needs and sits within the current funding context,” they added.

“We were pleased to be awarded [Transform Funding] which acknowledges our commitment to change through a proposed new model.”

When asked by Arts Professional if reducing the number of full-time staff was a condition of Transform funding, an ACE spokesperson said the structure of WNO’s orchestra is a matter for their leadership team and board.

“However, we are pleased to be investing £15.3m in WNO over the next three years and look forward to them continuing to tour inspiring opera performances,” the ACE spokesperson added.

Writing in The Times on Friday (23 June), culture writer Richard Morrison said the reduction of full-time staff is a condition of “transition money” offered by ACE and equates to 25 redundancies.

‘Reverse of levelling-up’

The open letter says previous strategic reviews into the company’s operations, which involved ACE, Arts Council of Wales (ACW) and several of the letter’s signatories, concluded that maintaining a full-time chorus and orchestra was central to sustaining the opera’s quality.

“The current proposal to rely much more heavily on freelance players and singer – neither easy nor practical outside London – strikes at the very source of WNO’s high reputation,” the letter reads.

It goes on to call ACE’s funding arrangements with WNO the “reverse of levelling up” and having a “deleterious effect” on the opera’s provision to English cities.

WNO has a long-standing history of touring performances across large cities in the UK but announced after the reduction of is National Portfolio Organisation funding last year, that it would cease touring to Liverpool.

Since then, Liverpool has been lined up as one of the favourites to become the new home for English National Opera.

The open letter also criticises ACE’s plan to embark on a strategic review of opera and music theatre, as the proposed review only refers to England.

It urges ACE and ACW to work together on the review to ensure its remit covers both England and Wales and for any reduction in WNO’s artistic core to be resisted while the review is undertaken.