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EDITIONS
Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
ROH's troubled past: Part II
Royal Opera House
The refurbished Opera House opened in 1999
Financial problems in 1998 were still rife, and a leaked letter from the board in June to Mr Smith called for the £15m subsidy to be doubled before it reopened.

But select committee chairman Gerald Kaufman said privatisation was preferable to endless subsidies.

Meanwhile an accountant from Coopers and Lybrand was appointed temporary chief executive,

Worse was still to come.

In June 1998 Sir Richard Eyre's report was published.

It rejected privatisation or combining it with the English National Opera and called instead for more funds for the theatre to continue.

Royal family
Members of the Royal family attended the reopening
But it slated the house's board for "arrogance and presumption" in its use of public money and said greater access for all could be achieved only by cutting ticket prices.

"The Royal Opera House must develop a sense of respect for accountability for public funds and a more constructive relationship with the Arts Council," said Sir Richard.

He added that planning procedures had been "deeply flawed", appointments "too haphazard" and efforts to extend access "half-hearted at best".

Meanwhile work on the refurbishment was still feverishly under way, and the ROH reopened its doors in December 1999 as the "people's opera".

Darcey Bussell and Cherie Blair
Darcey Bussell and Cherie Blair celebrated the opening of the Linbury Studio Theatre
The complex boasted a gallery, cafes, restaurants, shops, lobbies and bars, including one at roof level of the reconstructed cast-iron Floral Hall and an open rooftop terrace overlooking Covent Garden.

Air conditioning was also a welcome improvement - people often fainted from the heat in the cheapest seats at the top of the house in summer.

But music impresario Raymond Gubbay said the new house had become cheaper for the rich but was just as expensive for the poor.

Gubbay, who applied for the job of as head of the ROH but was rejected, says: "Seat prices are far too high for a public building of that kind. They've missed the opportunity of re-examining where they're at, and trying to bring in total reforms."

Vilar Floral Hall
The Vilar Floral Hall attracts visitors
But the ROH had made improvements, including an education schedule, free concerts and other programmes are also bringing in new opera and dance audiences.

There were few complaints about the Royal Ballet, the Royal Opera's co-tenant at Covent Garden, whose ticket prices are more affordable.

And the ROH budget was said to be healthy in November 1999, thanks to the work of former executive director, Michael Kaiser.

It was no doubt helped by Alberto Vilar, the Cuban-born billionaire, who gave £7.5m to the Royal Opera House in order to train young singers in December 2000.

Tony Hall
Former BBC boss Tony Hall now heads the ROH
The arts patron has given the ROH a total of £12m.

But the house still had difficulty holding on to its top staff.

Chief executive Michael Kaiser resigned from the Royal Opera in June 2000 after 18 months in the job, to become the new head of Washington's top arts venue, the Kennedy Center.

His replacement - Tony Hall, former head of BBC news - was announced in January 2001, after weeks of speculation over who would run the London venue.

Hall took up the position in April 2001.

During the same month he had to deal threatened strike action from ROH staff.

But it was averted - an agreement was hammered out after workers had voted for industrial action following alleged victimisation of a union official.

Troubled

Both sides agreed that a disciplinary committee with an independent chair should consider the charges during talks at the arbitration service Acas.

And the following month there were reports that the house was set to open its stage to pop and rock stars to help broaden its appeal and boost finances.

Icelandic singer Björk was said to be in talks about staging a concert at the Covent Garden venue in September, the Sunday Times reported.

It remains to be seen whether the fortunes of the troubled Royal Opera House are taking a turn for the better.

But whatever happens there can be no doubt that it will attract enormous media interest and will inflame the passions of those involved.

Click here to return to Part I of the ROH's troubled past.


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