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The English National Opera (ENO) has chosen Manchester as its new home from a shortlist of five potential cities. The Times reports that the ENO has made the decision to ensure that it will continue to receive funding from Arts Council England. The move is a part of the UK government’s wider levelling up agenda.

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said that he was ‘immensely proud’ that the cultural institution would be moving to the city.

He said: “We’ve worked closely with them to set out a shared vision for a future in our city-region, where they can continue making groundbreaking opera, foster new collaborations with artists across the north and bring their award-winning learning and wellbeing programmes to communities here.”

He added: “Greater Manchester’s world-renowned history of radical art, activism, and affecting change, and the cultural renaissance taking place across our towns and cities, makes it the ideal home for the ENO. We can’t wait to welcome them and see where this new partnership takes us.”

The other cities in the running were Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham. It is thought Manchester was chosen because it is the biggest city in Europe without a resident opera company. It also has a well-established cultural history with a range of world-class venues and a strong creative economy. Leeds is already home to Opera North. 

The ENO will take until 2029 to fully establish itself in Manchester and move out of its London base. Initially it will not have a fixed location, but put on performances at venues across Greater Manchester, such as the Lowry Arts Centre in Salford. 

Jenny Mollica, the interim chief executive of ENO, said it looked forward to “embarking on a new adventure … as we create a range of operative repertoire at a local, national and international scale”.

The move to Manchester has not been universally welcomed in all quarters of the arts world however. Some commentators are concerned that there will be insufficient audience numbers outside of London, and if performances would be able to attract corporate sponsorship, which is important as state subsidies are continuing to fall.

Opera is a demanding art form that requires not just first rate singing abilities, but also good acting skills. The performers have to interact with other cast members as well as the audience, and tell the story of the opera much in the same way as they would interpret a play or screenplay.

Furthermore, operas are often in a foreign language such as French or Italian, so performers have to understand the text themselves and express it in an emotionally convincing way for the audience. They also need to learn how to work with props and costumes and memorise text just as other stage actors do. 

Therefore, acting schools in Manchester may soon be turning out not just future stars of films, plays, and TV, but also of operatic performances of world class calibre.

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