The English Touring Opera has dropped 14 white musicians in a woke drive to ‘increase diversity’ in the company.
The musicians, aged 40 to 66, have been told they will not be offered contracts with the company in Spring 2022 citing diversity guidance from the Arts Council England, the Sunday Times reported.
The musicians, who officially work as freelancers, can be dropped from the opera season-on-season but many have played with the company for up to 20 years and consider it a permanent job.
The Arts Council England has hit back at the ETO, which it funds to the tune of £1.78 million a year, saying it never encouraged the company to sack musicians.
‘We did not instruct the English Touring Opera to send this letter,’ the Council said. ‘We are now in conversation with ETO to ensure no funding criteria have been breached’.
The English Touring Opera has dropped over half of its musicians in a brutal attempt to increase diversity in the company (pictured, an ETO production of Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi)
ETO director James Conway wrote to musicians, telling them the company was ‘going through some significant changes’ that included ‘increasing all kinds of diversity in its team’.
He said the opera would prioritise ‘increased diversity in the orchestra’ as there have been ‘steady advances’ in this area on stage.
Conway added the decision was ‘in line with the firm guidance of the Arts Council’.
The move was condemned by the musician’s union which said it was ‘appalled’ by the letter.
‘This equates to almost half the orchestra losing their roles’, it added. ‘Many of the members who have been told they will not be booked for the 2022 have been performing with ETO for 20 years or more.’
The ETO did not reply to requests for comment ahead of publication.
ETO Director James Conway wrote the opera would prioritise ‘increased diversity in the orchestra’ as there have been ‘steady advances’ in this area on stage (pictured, Ronald Samm as Olim in a production of The Silver Lake)
There are currently no musicians of a non-white background in the orchestra, which is set to resume shows next month.
The orchestra tours towns and cities in the UK with live productions and educational projects, reaching nearly 50,000 people a year, according to its website.
It is the latest blow to musicians, who were unable to work for the majority of the pandemic and were forced to rely on grants and loans.
Musicians said they had hoped the Spring 2022 season would see them return to work and be an opportunity to repay debts racked up during the pandemic.
The ETO has said it will consider the musicians for future productions and praised the ‘commitment and achievement’ of all freelance players.
The opera will return next month with a production of Handel’s Amadigi.
The ETO has said it will consider the musicians for future productions and praised the ‘commitment and achievement’ of all freelance players (pictured, a ETO production of Cosi Fan Tutte)
English Touring Opera’s letter in full:
I am writing to advise you that English Touring Opera is going through some significant changes over the next few seasons.
Some of these changes will directly affect the composition of the freelance orchestra engaged to tour.
It does seem likely that ETO will not be in a position to offer you a freelance engagement in the Spring 2022 season, even if we would like to leave the door open for freelance engagements in the future.
The orchestra has always changed, season to season – just as the company on stage and in the wings has changed regularly – but for a few reasons there will be quite a bit of change now.
As you know, the company has appointed a new Music Director, Gerry Cornelius. Gerry will be involved in advising on freelance orchestral engagements, as you would expect; he has been tasked with working with Phil Turbett on shaping the modern orchestra, and there have been recent auditions to inform that work.
English Touring Opera is committed to increasing all kinds of diversity in its team, and while there have been appreciable, steady advances on stage in this area, we have prioritised increased diversity in the orchestra. This is in line with the firm guidance of the Arts Council, principal funder of ETO’s touring work, and of most of the trust funds that support ETO.
I appreciate very much the commitment and achievement of all the freelance players who have achieved such high standards for ETO during my tenure with the company.
I know that all those players have achieved distinction in their work with other groups, in their teaching, and in many other fields. I recognise, too, that this last 18 months have been extremely difficult for freelance artists and technicians.
I know that you are not likely to read gratitude into this message – but I assure you that I do feel grateful for what you have brought to ETO in the seasons during which you have played so far.