Oliviers 2017: Mark Wigglesworth admits ‘art vs politics’ struggle during ENO tenure

Mark Wigglesworth won for outstanding achievement in opera at the Olivier Awards 2017. Photo: Pamela Raith
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Former English National Opera music director Mark Wigglesworth has spoken of his struggle to keep “the art above the politics” during his final stint at the company.

Picking up the statuette for outstanding achievement in opera at the 2017 Olivier Awards, Wigglesworth admitted it had been a “tricky year” and that he hoped the ENO would keep producing opera.

His comments come following a difficult period for ENO, which was dropped from Arts Council England’s national portfolio in 2015 due to “serious concerns” about the organisation’s finances. ACE is continuing to fund ENO until at least 2018.

Wigglesworth worked as music director for ENO, but announced his resignation less than a year into the role, after proposals he put to the board about how to run the organisation were rejected.

Speaking at the Olivier Awards, where ENO also won best new opera production for Akhnaten, Wigglesworth said: “The biggest challenge for me was trying to keep the art above the politics.

“Trying just to focus everybody’s minds and hearts on what really matters, which is the quality of the work.

“It wasn’t easy when there was so much stuff going on. I think the politics is a means to an end, and the end is the art and it needs to be that way round.”

He added: “It’s been a tricky year, but for ENO to win two awards is wonderful, they deserve it.

“There are still people there that really care about opera and to have the privilege of working with them, with that passion and knowledge and dedication makes leading them really easy.”

Wigglesworth went on to say that he hopes ENO will “keep doing opera” because “London needs two opera companies all the time”.

“Opera can be whatever you want it to be and it has a potential for a huge variety of audiences out there so I’m not convinced those audiences can be catered for by one house.

“So the idea is to have two houses cater for the huge range of people who love opera. Some people love listening to it, some people love watching it, some people love both, and it’s an art form that encourages a wide range of emotions.”