The English National Opera is the busiest opera company in Britain, presenting about twenty productions a year to over 450,000 people in the capital's largest theatre.


The English National Opera was initally formed by Lilian Baylis, who, at the age of 23, presented a series of opera recitals at the Old Vic theatre in 1898. By 1912, she had gone on to establish a theatre company at the Old Vic, which initially performed cut-down versions of Shakespeare.

1928 saw Lilian take on a small group of dancers, who later separate from the Vic-Wells company and are eventually renamed The Royal Ballet. Three years later in 1931 the Sadler's Wells Theatre had opened and the Vic-Wells Opera Company was formed, with performances being put on at both the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells.

Lilian Baylis died in 1937. During World War II, Sadler's Wells was requisitioned and the company moved to Burnley. The company also tours the country to raise war-time morale. After the war the company returned to Sadler's Wells and re-opened with a performance of Britten's Peter Grimes.

In 1968, the Managing Director of the Vic-Wells Opera, Stephen Arlen, moves the company from Sadler's Wells to the London Coliseum, an Edwardian Grade II listed building near to Charing Cross in London. There had been a project for building a National Opera House on the South Bank which had been finally abandoned by the government; thankfully the lease for the London Coliseum had become available. The move was heralded by a production of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg and completed by the triumphant achievements of Prokofiev's War & Peace and Wagner's Ring Cycle.

By 1974, the Vic-Wells Opera had become the English National Opera (or ENO), confirming the status which the company had held for almost 50 years.

In 1984 the ENO the first British opera company to tour the United States of America and in 1990 the company was the first major foreign opera company to tour the former Soviet Union. In 1991, the company were presented with the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for Opera.

In 2000, the company embarked on a four year restoration program on the London Coliseum, having acquired the freehold to its home in 1992 (thanks to funding from the government and the Foundation for Sport and the Arts).


The English National Opera is funded by the Arts Council of England, the City of Westminster and the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council of England. 53% of the company's funding in 2000/01 came from the Arts Council, 28% from the box office takings and the remaining 18% from other grants, sponsorship and exploitation income.

What is it all about?

The basic premise of the English National Opera is opera for all. There is no dress code, people mostly dress up as it is, after all, the opera but it is not stipulated - some turn up in jeans and a t-shirt. All the performances are sung in English and there are signed performances for the hearing impaired. Tickets start at only £6 and more than half the tickets are less than £40, children between 5 and 18 are half price.

Attached interests


Established in 1985, the educational wing of the ENO is called ENO Baylis (after the ENO's founder) and involves around 12,000 people each year in a wide range of projects, events, courses and performances. Based at the ENO Works, in Hackney, much of their work concentrates on inner London, particularly the boroughs of Westminster, Southwark and Hackney.

Their aim is to introduce opera to a wide range of participants and audiences. The educational arm of the company produces a year-round programme of activity with schools, groups and individuals enables people of all ages, and from a wide variety of backgrounds, to become involved in the work of ENO. The ENO Baylis provides sources for teachers and students and also runs three different music theatre courses :

  • The Knack is a one-year, part-time performance skills course for singers aged 18+, mostly with an interest in performing professionally.
  • The Works is a vocal course for 16-30 year olds, drawing on jazz, pop, doo-wap and R&B traditions.
  • Saturday Live! is a music theatre programme for young people aged 9-16
The Studio

The ENO Studio is a unique, pioneering resource centre dedicated to the development of new work. Working under the direction of Music Director Paul Daniel, the Studio commissions and develops new operas and new productions of modern operas. Each ENO season contains an opera commission from a British composer, and this Contemporary Opera Studio encourages the creation of smaller-scale opera with the participation of writers, producers, musicians and designers.

Sources :
Programme notes from the English National Opera

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