It seems that operatic plots and emotions are not confined to what happens on the stage at English National Opera. The tumultuous last few years have seen the company lurch from crisis to crisis, with the acrimonious departures of artistic director Nicholas Payne in 2002 and music director Paul Daniel earlier this year (who was booed by the company’s marketing director Ian McKay during his final performance as conductor), a strike by the chorus and an ACE financial bail-out of “one-off” emergency payments.
Now comes the news that Sean Doran, its current chief executive and artistic director, has resigned with immediate effect, though he is being retained as an ‘artistic consultant’ for the rest of the season that he has already put in place. Though his reign has not been without huge controversy, there have also been notable recent hits, including the current sell-out run of a new production of Madam Butterfly by director Anthony Minghella, the summer hit of Bernstein’s On the Town and the intriguing autumn success of a new contemporary opera adapted from Fassbinder’s film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. I have seen each of them, and they’re just the kind of exciting new takes on established pieces or radical new ones that have lured me off my regular patch and into the opera house.
But critics and cultural commentators have long thought that Doran was, in the Daily Telegraph’s Rupert Christiansen’s words, “way out of his depth”, never having run an opera company or theatre before. Those sentiments were echoed by Paul Daniel in a departing interview that led to his pubic booing: “He needs very strong people within the company to actually run the whole business of putting an opera company together,” he told The Guardian.
Two of those strong people remain in place, with John Berry – ENO’s director of opera planning – now expected to take over the artistic director duties, with Loretta Tomasi, executive director who was formerly MD of Really Useful Theatres, taking over as the new chief executive.