Staging opera of the very highest standards, while ensuring as many people as possible can experience it, meant that 2021 was a non-stop year for the English National Opera. Apart from adjusting to being back on stage at the opera’s London Coliseum home, the ENO was also focused on taking its work beyond these walls.
ENO Breathe was a breakthrough programme to give crucial support to people recovering from Covid during 2021. Developed in partnership with respiratory specialists, the six-week online programme focuses on breathing retraining through singing for sufferers experiencing breathlessness and resulting anxiety. The programme now works with 58 NHS post-Covid assessment clinics across the country, helping over 800 participants. The findings from this programme continue to contribute to the worldwide effort to combat Long Covid.
As well as utilising its expertise to help the wider community, the ENO is also focused on bringing opera to more people than ever, fulfilling its founding principle of being the national opera company for everyone. Following the televising in 2020 of the world’s first drive-in opera, La Bohème at Alexandra Palace, the ENO continued creating work for broadcast. Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem were beamed around the country for free on BBC Two, reaching a million households between them. At the end of 2021 the ENO worked with Sky Arts on Anyone Can Sing, to be screened in spring this year, and undoubtedly attracting a new generation of opera stars.
The ENO has always aimed to remove barriers to enjoying live opera. To this end, it was the first opera company in the world to introduce free tickets anywhere in the auditorium and for any performance for under 21s. It also significantly expanded its offer of discounted tickets for under 35s, while tickets for everyone else start from as little as £10. This investment is crucial to the ENO’s ethos of helping new audiences experience the arts.
Another hero moment was the launch of Finish This… last September, when the ENO’s Learning and Participation department invited primary and secondary school pupils to complete an unfinished musical composition. This project was a fun challenge that also supported the curriculum, providing valuable resources for teachers, and giving schoolchildren the opportunity to expand their appreciation of culture via music and storytelling.
Finally, the ENO joined forces with Netflix to create the world’s first ‘Tiktopera’, a short form opera based on the series Tiger King. The story was set to a series of songs from Bizet’s Carmen and performed by a 40-person professional chorus and full string orchestra. The curtain rose on the ground-breaking piece in November and the opera was posted in full on TikTok and YouTube. It achieved 15 million views in just seven days, sharing the ENO’s flair for innovative creativity with a huge new audience.
The ENO always aims to be different and surprising in its approach, reimagining and reframing how opera is traditionally perceived. This year will see the ENO take this forward to even more people, demonstrating the broader role that arts organisations can play in their communities and the wider world.