So refreshing! A major classical music institution taking strong action on diversity.
This is the English National Opera, as reported in the Guardian in January.
Their new CEO, Stuart Murphy, came to the ENO from a background in TV, and — maybe because on TV, even if things could go further, people do think about diversity, and take some degree of it for granted — he was shocked at what he saw at the ENO.
To quote the Guardian:
Opera is shockingly white, overly traditional and too slow to change, according to the leader of one of the UK’s leading companies.
Stuart Murphy, the former TV executive who joined English National Opera as its chief executive last spring, made the damning assessment as he announced new measures to tackle its lack of diversity.
That includes positive action to recruit at least four chorus members from a black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) background.
Murphy recalled joining the company and and finding it ‘really shocking’ that 39 of ENO’s 40-strong chorus were white. “We weren’t true to our values, we didn’t represent Britain,” he said. “It just felt strange to me … Young white audiences also think it is weird.”
He pointed to figures showing that of the 170 permanent chorus singers in the UK, less than five were from a BAME background. In terms of representation, it should be 22. “As an industry we are getting it really, really wrong.”
As I said, that’s really refreshing. He doesn’t institute catalytic conversations. Doesn’t furrow his brow about how to change the culture of UK opera. Doesn’t hire consultants! Instead he makes immediate change:
Four new members of the chorus from a BAME background will be hired for the 19/20 season with a view to extend for a further season. It would also seek to employ singers from a BAME background for extra chorus positions.
Have to say I like that last point, because in a Facebook discussion I suggested that orchestras could put more musicians of color onstage right away by giving them preference on their sub list. I got some pushback for that; all of us, me included, should learn how it turns out to work at the ENO. (I’llpost that suggestion here shortly.)
Murphy also wants more BAME orchestra members, audience, and lead singers, while granting the number of lead singers will take time to change, since they’re booked years ahead. (Thanks to Severine Kwan for sending me the link.)
Worth reading! I’m eager to see how this works out.