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English National Opera Musicians Vote to Strike Over Proposed Cuts

The company's musicians, who say the proposed cuts could force them out of the profession altogether, will strike after the opening night of new Poul Ruders opera "The Handmaid's Tale"


Musicians and music staff of the English National Opera (ENO) have voted to take full strike action in response to the substantial cuts proposed by Arts Council England (ACE).

The proposed cuts would axe 19 full-time positions in the ENO’s orchestra, and place the remaining full-time musicians onto short-term contracts. ACE also mandated that the company move its home base from London to Manchester, and said it would withdraw ENO's £12m per annum funding grant if the move was not completed.

The strike action is due to take place on February 1, 2024 — after the opening-night performance of The Handmaid's Tale, a new opera by Poul Ruders that is based on the novel by Margaret Atwood.

For players in ENO's orchestra, the strike is led by the Musicians' Union (MU), while members of the chorus are represented by the Equity Trade Union. At Equity, 100% of chorus members represented by the union voted in favor of strike action.

In October 2023, the ENO’s then-Music Director Martyn Brabbins resigned to protest the proposed cuts.

"This is a sign of extremely difficult times for the orchestral sector and opera and ballet in particular," said Naomi Pohl, MU's general secretary. "This has been caused by underfunding of the proposed move to Manchester."

"The management have decided to cut our members down to six months of work per year and this risks a wonderful, talented and specialist orchestra dissipating," she added. "It is heartbreaking to see the impact on the individuals affected."

"The heart of this dispute is about who opera in this country is for: should there be stable, accessible jobs for people from every background, or precarious jobs limited to the few?" said Paul Fleming, the general secretary of Equity.

"[ENO management is] throwing the artists who audiences pay to see under the bus whilst protecting the pay of senior management," he continued. "They are proposing fire and rehire, 40% cuts in wages, and no permanent jobs in a new Manchester base."

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