From a defiled giant pink My Little Pony (Salome) and explicit MySpace messages (Two Boys) to nudity and new music (Salome again; The Mask of Orpheus etc), English National Opera (ENO) has always taken creative risks. Some have worked, some have not – and many have divided opinion. Productions have taken place amid financial woes, in-fighting and industry squabbles.
This has sometimes meant that ENO’s artistic reputation has been overshadowed by its fancier neighbour, the Royal Opera House. But over the past year, the imaginative rule-breaking that lies at the heart of ENO has enabled the organisation to produce a portfolio of work that no other arts collective has managed during the same time scale.
During the first wave of the pandemic, the ENO turned its costume department over to making emergency PPE. The team produced 1,700 pairs of scrubs, 500 hats and 1,000 visors, as well as raising £26,000 towards materials, with the remaining money donated to NHS charities. (Deputy head of costume Sarah Bowern subsequently received an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list.)
We’re thrilled to announce that following the success of an initial 6 week pilot of #ENOBreathe, our singing, breathing and wellbeing programme for people recovering from COVID-19 is to be rolled out nationally from today ???? ???? https://t.co/zFeW1WnliL@ImperialNHS#HereForCulturepic.twitter.com/A3JyRPSIN3
— English National Opera (@E_N_O) January 28, 2021
Then, when socially distanced performances were permitted, the organisation put on the UK’s first-ever drive-in opera, battling a freak storm to produce a belting La bohème. Critics were uncharacteristically impressed. And now, as the crisis endures and doors to the Coliseum remain closed, the ENO is contributing again – this time, supporting Covid recovery through a groundbreaking nationwide programme, ENO Breathe.
Created in partnership with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, ENO Breathe is intended to help combat the long-term breathlessness that many patients suffer from in the aftermath of Covid-19. Online sessions led by Baylis, ENO’s learning and participation programme, teach participants how to regain breath control through singing – taking lullabies as the starting point.