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Subsidy for the arts is vital to ensure access for everyone

Subsidy for the arts is vital to ensure that more people across the country are able to enjoy live performance, writes Richard Mantle, General Director:

Opera North currently receives £10.3m annual funding from Arts Council England, which constitutes 52% of our total turnover, a percentage of turnover which has significantly decreased over the last decade.

We are extremely proud to be the touring opera company for the north of England, but our public subsidy supports a programme of work far broader than opera alone, whilst also allowing us to maintain accessible ticket prices and deliver an adventurous and critically acclaimed artistic programme. Last year, our mainstage opera and music theatre productions played to a total capacity of 71% across all venues, and reached a total of just over 101,000 people. Our overall audience across all the work we do was 153,000, in 75 different venues, predominantly across the north of England.

Recent productions have included Mozart’s The Magic Flute playing to 94% of capacity across its tour, and Puccini’s Tosca playing to 83%. We work hard to reach new audiences and offer reduced price tickets to new attenders and under 30s. Nearly a third of all bookers across the year were new. We firmly believe that opera is for everyone and ensure that tickets are priced accordingly, with ticket prices starting from £15 and over 500 tickets available for each performance priced at £30 or less.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North's Ring Cycle, 2016 © Clive Barda

Education and community engagement work reaches many more people again, ranging from our engagement work with over 100 different community groups in Leeds, schools’ matinee performances with tickets priced at just £6 per child under 18, dementia-friendly opera performances and music activities and performances for young children and families. Our flagship In Harmony programme delivers high quality music education in six schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas of Leeds, teaching more than 1800 children every week to play an instrument and play in an orchestra. In 2018 we were named a Theatre of Sanctuary, in recognition of our work with refugee groups, the first opera company to be recognised as such.

In addition to touring opera, Opera North also delivers an orchestral concert season in Kirklees, as well as a full annual programme of jazz, folk, world music, chamber recitals, film screenings, installations and family events in the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds, which is currently temporarily closed as part of our £18 million redevelopment project, Music Works. Music Works is 90% funded from private sources, injecting significant capital investment into the New Briggate area of Leeds.

Access to live opera, music and all art should be open to everyone, whether they live in London or Leeds.  The reality of producing great works such as Wagner’s Ring cycle, Martinů’s The Greek Passion or Puccini’s Tosca is that they require a significant level of public subsidy.  We are not ashamed of that fact and believe firmly that our audiences in Salford, Hull, Newcastle and across the north deserve to see these masterpieces at the scale they were intended as much as audiences in London.


This piece was written in response to an article published in The Times on Wednesday 22 January 2020.


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