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A slyly overcautious management board generates turmoil
at English National Opera, by RODERIC DUNNETT


Opera experts around the world have reacted in disbelief to the peremptory way English National Opera has accepted the resignation tendered by its General Manager, Nicholas Payne, universally recognised as one of the of the most capable administrators in the business.

Payne (57), a previous Finance Director of Welsh National Opera before heading up first the uniquely enterprising Opera North (with such acclaimed productions as Ariane et Barbe-bleue and Der ferne Klang) and then the opera department at Covent Garden, before moving to join Music Director Paul Daniel at ENO, merges financial competence and a fresh and original artistic judgment, and is seen as one of the pioneering giants of the English, and indeed international, opera world.

The resignation comes in the wake of a number of artistic disappointments at ENO, shared with some classic successes. Mozart, Verdi and even Rossini productions drew some critical flak, although one of the weakest efforts was one of the bravest and most imaginatively undertaken : an attempt to breathe life into Spontini's gargantuan, pre-Wagnerian and pre-Meyerbeerian effort La Vestale, once the glory of the post-Revolution French stage and lauded by Berlioz. The cast was not felt to be up to it, and some casting misjudgments as well as stage indulgences have indeed dogged and marred a number of recent ENO productions.

Nevertheless the overall thrust was widely perceived as right, and the board's and its chairman's acceptance -- if not engineering -- of a situation where Payne felt impelled to throw in the rag reflects poorly on its notion of how ENO's financial future, and the loyalties of its by and large enterprising audience, can best be secured without -- pace the brickbats -- a serious loss of artistic integrity.

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Copyright © 19 July 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK


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