London opera is based around two great houses. The Covent Garden Opera House and the Coliseum, clinging precariously to the narrow pavement of Saint Martin's Lane and boxed off behind unsightly hardboard screens and ugly scaffolding, ready for a #41 million (HK$510 million) renovation. These days the London Coliseum shares more than just a name with the Roman original. The Coliseum in Rome was once an arena for the sacrifice of innocents, and the London Coliseum is fast following suit as 20 of the 60-strong resident English National Opera (ENO) chorus are set to be axed in a cost-cutting bloodbath. London is a magnet for cultural tourists, the box offices of the concert halls and opera houses depend for a slice of their takings on overseas visitors. Since the tragic events of 9/11 audiences for London cultural venues have shrunk as tourists numbers have declined - significantly affecting the takings at the Coliseum box office and leading to the threatened redundancies. But it hasn't only been the effects of 9/11 keeping some members of the audience away. The English National Opera has a policy of staging operas in English and over the years has built a solid, distinctive reputation that has allowed it to move out of the shadow of its grander rival in Covent Garden. But last year saw a string of ENO productions garnering damaging reviews. Critics savaged a staging of Verdi's Masked Ball, which opened with 12 men sitting on a row of lavatories with their trousers around their ankles and continued with a simulated male rape. The tenor cast in the lead role walked out on the grounds that he was a family man. A rarely performed opera, La Vestale by Gasparo Spontini, followed and was succinctly described by one critic as 'a mess'. Fall-out from these productions and a row with ENO chairman Martin Smith resulted in the resignation of veteran artistic director Nicholas Payne and his replacement with little known Sean Doran, who had no experience of running a theatre, let alone an opera house. The chorus has responded imaginatively to the redundancy threats, first whispering their way through a dress rehearsal and then lustily and ironically singing Verdi's Chorus Of The Hebrew Slaves in front of the Arts Council's offices. Their protests culminated in a walk out of Berlioz's The Trojans, instead giving a free performance of Verdi's Requiem in a local church. The singers believe that the current financial problems can be solved without decimating the chorus. Smith is not convinced, believing redundancies to be the only way out of the financial crisis - despite a substantial grant from the British Arts Council. But whatever the outcome, Londoners seem certain to enjoy more grand opera both on and off stage at the Coliseum.