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Will moving to Manchester be 'a disaster' for the English National Opera?
Plus: A critic attacks the 'boring cult of nostalgia' about the Haçienda
Dear Millers — this week’s briefing is something of a culture edition. First, we chew over the debate brewing about the English National Opera’s possible move to Manchester. Then, we link to a stinging article that attacks the “boring cult of nostalgia” about the Haçienda, after a new documentary about the nightclub aired this weekend.
Away from hot takes about the Mancunian cultural landscape, we have a beautiful canalside property in Marple for you to ogle at, an expert’s view on the latest census data and some dodgy-sounding stats from the chief constable about his crowd-pleasing crackdown on counterfeit sellers on Bury New Road.
Good news from Dani Cole: she easily hit (and surpassed) the money needed to get a gravestone for Tony Doran, the man whose funeral she attended after he died without any friends or family coming forward. More than a dozen Millers contributed to her GoFundMe and she will write an update for us when the headstone has been put in place. It’s wonderful to see The Mill’s community mobilising for causes like this.
Over the weekend, we published a deeply reported piece by Mollie Simpson looking at why stories of drink spiking are so hard to stand up and the lack of help offered to many victims. “A powerful read and very important to be raising this issue,” wrote one member in the comments, pointing out that it’s not just women who get spiked. “I suspect that I've been spiked on at least two occasions in Manchester's Gay Village in not too dissimilar situations. Great read and keep up the good investigative work.”
Last week, members read the very sad story of a travelling clown from Bolton who has performed in refugee camps around the world. We also sent them a piece about five key moments when the emergency response to the Manchester Arena bombing went badly wrong. To read those pieces, and get access to the vast cache of quality journalism we have built up over the past two years, hit the button below. We’re only 12 members away from 1600, just over a week since we hit 1500. We’re making incredible progress — be a part of it!
This week’s weather
Our forecast is from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says: “unseasonably mild weather will arrive this week and after Wednesday, there will be plenty of dry weather to enjoy.”
Tuesday 🌦 Mostly cloudy, windy and showery. Feeling cooler compared to Monday. Max 13°c.
Wednesday 🌦 Calmer with sunny intervals and a few heavy showers. Max 13°c.
Thursday 🌥 Very mild despite overcast skies for most of the day. Odd spell of drizzle/light shower will be possible given thick cloud cover. Breezy. Max 16°c.
Friday 🌥 Mostly dry with brighter spells. Very mild for the time of year. Breezy. Max 17°c.
Weekend ⛅️ Mainly settled with variable amounts of cloud and sunshine. Feeling very mild.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: ‘It’s not an opera city’
Top line: We may be getting a resident opera company in Manchester after a controversial funding move by the Arts Council last week.
What we know so far: It’s been announced that the English National Opera (ENO), the second most prestigious opera company in London after Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House, and the one that sings in English, is being forced out of the capital.
ENO is losing its £12.6m core annual grant from Arts Council England, “instead getting £17m over three years as part of a plan to relocate, possibly to Manchester,” reports the BBC.
This decision was seemingly driven by the government’s instructions to the Arts Council about how it should use public money.
From the top: As Arts Council England chair Sir Nick Serota put it:
The position was made relatively clear when the secretary of state instructed us to take money out of London, and also encouraged us to take money from central London to some parts of the city that hadn't previously had funding.
Reaction: The funding decision has kicked a hornet’s nest in the arts world, with some opera lovers attacking the government for vandalising London’s cultural sector and others — like the Spectator’s editor Fraser Nelson — arguing on his magazine’s daily podcast that organisations like ENO, which serve mostly middle-class audiences, should be able to operate without public subsidy by attracting more corporate sponsorship. “This is madness,” thunders a not-particularly-convincing column in today’s London Evening Standard.
We already have some opera: Opera North is based in Leeds but tours across the region. They are visiting The Lowry this month with performances of La Traviata on the 15th and 17th, Orfeo ed Euridice on the 18th and Orpheus on the 19th, tickets for which are still available.
Is there an audience here? Hugh Morris, who writes about music for esteemed titles like The Mill and The New York Times, tweeted:
Speaking from a Manchester perspective, reckon it's gonna take a significant change of fortunes to develop an audience for opera in the city, given Opera North's existing presence, and the reduced numbers post-Covid at comparable classical gigs.
Disaster: Opera critic Hugh Canning, went further, tweeting that “Manchester will be a disaster for ENO.” Why? “It’s not an opera city as both The Royal Opera and Opera North have discovered to their cost. There’s a reason why ON goes to Salford. Birmingham would be a far better location to move ENO’s operation.”
The counterpoint came in the replies from a local music-lover: “Sir Mark Elder’s semi-staged operas with the Hallé at The Bridgewater Hall sell out, so there is definitely an appetite for opera here.”
Also, look at these shoppers loving some opera at the Arndale this weekend!
Rustle up an opera house: Where would the ENO perform, if it took the Arts Council’s funding offer and moved here? What about the vast and massively over-budget venue being built on the Irwell, Factory International? Some see the ENO news as an opportunity for the council to solve the venue’s looming problem: what on earth to perform in it (go deeper with our recent edition about the new arts space). Don’t be surprised to see council leader Bev Craig and former council chief executive Howard Bernstein — the driver behind Factory — lobbying for the ENO to go there.
The Lowry’s Lyric Theatre, which has a big enough stage to host opera (the country’s largest stage outside of London, in fact) would arguably be a better fit, although it already has a pretty full programme of events and the ENO has mentioned Manchester as its possible destination, not Salford.
Palace Theatre: Some readers might remember a 2009 idea, driven by the Royal Opera House rather than the ENO, to renovate the Palace Theatre on Oxford Road and turn it into a northern base for opera and ballet, plans that were publicly opposed by The Lowry. It is owned by the same company that runs The Opera House on Quay Street, which — confusingly — puts on musicals and concerts but not opera, and is operating as a successful commercial venue.
Or how about the long-closed Theatre Royal on Peter Street, which is Manchester’s oldest surviving theatre and badly needs to become a cultural venue again rather than whatever its present owners have in mind.
The ENO move is part of a broader move to address what former culture secretary Nadine Dorries called a “huge historic imbalance” in funding for the arts. The plan is to prioritise previously overlooked areas. Wigan, for example, previously received £1.96 per capita annually, compared to £7.52 in neighbouring Salford.
The Old Courts, in Wigan, are one of the newly funded venues included in the latest funding round, set to receive £350,000 per year.
Others receiving funding for the first time include Cartwheel Arts and Your Trust, both in Rochdale, and the National Football Museum in the city centre.
Venues having their funding renewed or increased include:
The Octagon Theatre, in Bolton (annual funding is up to £624,359 from £614,060).
The Royal Exchange, whose funding stayed at £2.3m a year.
And The Met in Bury whose funding leapt from £100,580 to £187,431, much to the delight of local Conservative MP James Daly (who we believe could have chosen a slightly less weird camera angle in this congratulatory video).
Our take: The Mill was in the audience for the Hallé’s recent performance of Verdi’s Requiem, and the concert hall was packed. On other occasions, audiences can look a bit thin inside Bridgewater Hall, especially given the global stature of the orchestra. Those who are doubtful about Manchester’s ability to attract strong crowds to the third night of the Ring Cycle are probably right — but the ENO has made a success of combining Wagner and Britten with Gilbert and Sullivan. It might take a while to build up an audience here, but that investment feels like it’s well worth it. Manchester badly needs more great culture, and the ENO — with its founding mission to democratise opera for the working classes — would be a great fit.
What do you think? Hit reply to this email or leave us your thoughts in the comments (members-only).
Home of the week
This canalside property in Marple has four bedrooms, a secluded rear garden and uninterrupted views of the Mellor Hills. It’s on the market for £725,000.
Your Mill briefing
A fresh set of Census data dropped last week, showing — among other things — that Manchester city centre has never been less deprived, and has never been more cosmopolitan. 31% of Manchester’s residents were born outside the UK, a figure that trounces other northern cities like Leeds (16%), Liverpool (15%) and Sheffield (15%). There are stark examples of more deprived areas sitting over the road from wealthier neighbourhoods, which some attribute to rapidly increased development and a lack of new affordable housing. For example, around the towers on Deansgate, 73% of households were classed as not deprived, compared to 25% across the road in Hulme around Jackson Crescent. Dr Jonathan Silver, who is deputy director of the Urban Institute at Sheffield University, told The Mill: “Manchester itself seems to be overall less deprived, which is a good thing. But the question is, what is the geography of that deprivation? And what does it say about how the council have planned and rebuilt the city centre?”
Counterfeit alley, also known as Bury New Road, is currently being “blitzed” by GMP, the force is very keen to tell us. For the past 25 years, the stretch of retail units near the area around Strangeways has been home to a network of counterfeit sellers that chief constable Stephen Watson told the Sunday Times is an “enormous, enormous generator of illicit money”. How much illicit money? The trade in fakes allegedly costs the UK economy more than £8 billion each year and Watson implausibly claims that “some estimates would say that over 50 per cent of that comes from Cheetham Hill.” That estimate had eyebrows touching the ceiling on Twitter, where one person pointed out that Watson’s maths would equate to £1500 for every person in Greater Manchester. That’s a lot of Gucci trainers.
An inquest has raised questions as to whether mould was a factor in the death of a two-year-old boy in Rochdale. Awaab Ishak died in 2020 after having breathing difficulties — his father Faisal Abdullah had contacted Rochdale Boroughwide Housing on multiple occasions about the mould in the flat but the issue was never fixed. The inquest continues.
Absurd plans to get rid of a 300-year-old footpath down one side of the river Irwell look set to be scrapped. The path was meant to be re-routed under plans to build a hotel on the riverbank, but a group of objectors led by Dr Morag Rose, a university lecturer and transport activist, have caused developer Legal & General to re-think the plans.
Our favourite reads
The male, pale Haçienda myth — The New Statesman
The Haçienda has long been the centre of a “boring cult of nostalgia” about Manchester and a changing Britain, writes music critic Fergal Kinney. The latest BBC documentary to celebrate its legacy, The Haçienda: The Club That Shook Britain, had the opportunity to explore the queer and black subcultures at the heart of the scene, but instead settled for “a cosy consensus about how blokes changed the world”. You can watch the documentary here.
Eric Allison, Guardian’s prison correspondent, dies at 79 — The Guardian
A beautifully-written obituary to Eric Allison, a journalist and former Strangeways inmate whose investigations exposed the cruelty in the prison system and argued for a system that rehabilitates. His investigation into sexual abuse at Medomsley detention centre triggered Operation Seabrook, a massive abuse inquiry where over 1,600 former inmates came forward to report abuse. The Guardian’s northern editor Helen Pidd writes that he was “always fighting for the underdog”.
Be with me a little longer — The Times Literary Supplement
Douglas Field, a senior literature professor at the University of Manchester, writes a moving personal essay about his experience grieving someone who is still living, based on his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s. “It says in the dictionary,” his father once told him over the phone, “that Alzheimer’s means I’ll stop understanding how other people feel. I want you to know that I won’t mean any cruel things I say.”
Our to do list
🎶 The Ishmael Ensemble, an electronic jazz group known for their lush cinematic soundscapes and ambient bedroom listening tracks, are performing at the White Hotel in Salford. Last few tickets here.
🛣 It’s the last week of Manchester Academy of Fine Art’s exhibition in Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery, which features over 100 artworks. We recommend looking out for the work of Jen Orpin, whose paintings “focus on the almost invisible spaces that we pass by every day: the gritty asphalt-and-dandelion thick grass under the Mancunian Way; a melancholic stretch of empty motorway, a bridge crossing over the horizon,” writes Dani Cole in this interview.
👩🎤 Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist protest group known for their provocative performance art and outspoken opposition to Putin’s regime, are performing at Band on the Wall. Tickets here.
🎻 If you prefer something more delicate, guitarist and folk singer Joe Hicks is performing at the Castle Hotel in the Northern Quarter, whose first single came from “a soul searching writing trip to a secluded Cornish Airbnb garage with no internet or phone signal”. Tickets are £10.
❓ Round up a group of mates for the pop quiz at Edge Theatre in Chorlton, which is hosted by local celebs and donates all profits towards the Edge’s work with people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. This month, Salfordian comedian and actor John Thomson will host. £15 per group.
🧀 Wandering Palate, the fine wine and deli shop in Monton, has selected four cheeses from the Crafty Cheeseman, each paired with wine and beer, to ask the question: is wine or beer better with cheese? 7pm start. Register here.
For recommendations for how best to eat, drink or art in Manchester this weekend, — which we send out every Thursday, curated by expert voices — hit the button below to join us as a member.