Exclusive: Cressida Pollock to leave English National Opera

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The chief executive of English National Opera, Cressida Pollock, is to leave her job only three years after she was appointed to rescue the company from financial disaster.

Pollock said she was “greatly saddened” to be leaving. Her departure follows rumours of clashes with Daniel Kramer, ENO’s new artistic director. Staff were also unhappy with cuts she had made in order to balance the books.

The former McKinsey management consultant took over running of the crisis-hit company in September 2015 after Arts Council England placed it in special measures and demanded the recruitment of a leader who would turn the business around.

She succeeded in putting ENO on a more stable footing. It has been readmitted into the Arts Council’s national portfolio, with the funding body saying it no longer has serious concerns about the company’s finances.

However, it has come at a cost, with the number of productions this year cut from 11 to eight. That proved controversial, as did a plan to reduce the size and pay of the chorus which led to threats of strike action.

In an interview in May, Pollock indicated that she felt under siege. “I was shouted at a lot. People are upset. They have every right to be upset,” she said.

Pollock will leave her role at the end of ENO’s current season, in June 2018. In a statement, she said: “I will be greatly saddened to leave this incredible institution, which it has been a privilege to lead.

“I am very proud of our achievements to date and am grateful to the extraordinary people I work alongside. When I arrived, the ENO was in crisis and the company’s survival was in real doubt.

“I am delighted that we have brought stability and secured ENO’s future.”

Daniel Kramer

Daniel Kramer, artistic director of ENO, said he and Pollock had learned ‘to support each other’

Credit:
Geoff Pugh

She admitted earlier this year that she had found it “extremely hard” to cope with hostility from colleagues when she was first appointed, but said she was personally invested in making ENO a success.

“I want to keep coming to this institution, whether I’m running it, or whether I’m just a punter buying a ticket,” she said.

Kramer, a divisive figure who was appointed artistic director in April, is said to have argued with Pollock about the cuts.

Asked about their working relationship in a Telegraph interview, Kramer denied there was any tension. “We have learnt to riff off each other and support each other,” he said.

At the time of her appointment, critics said Pollock was too young (she was then 32), too inexperienced and knew nothing of the arts world.

The opera house was in turmoil, having lost its chairman, executive director, music director and art director in quick succession, and was at risk of closure.

A subsequent music director, Mark Wigglesworth, quit in March last year, saying: “The company is evolving now into something I do not recognise.”

Pollock, a Cambridge graduate with an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, admitted that she was not an “opera buff” but said she loved the art form and watched her first opera – on VHS – aged five.

She said that some people within ENO didn’t “necessarily want to go into the money”, but that was where her expertise lay.

Harry Brunjes, chairman of ENO, said of Pollock’s departure: “Cressida has turned around our fortunes to deliver financial security, while keeping us on a solid creative footing… We will be sorry to lose her energy and determination to achieve success when she steps down next June.”