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Wednesday, September 9, 1998 Published at 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK


Year's closure for opera house

The Royal Opera House: In a financial mess

Managers at the cash-strapped Royal Opera House are proposing to close it for almost a year.

They plan to make job cuts before re-opening with a reduced number of performances.

Watch a report on the opera house's "radical solution"
The plan was announced by the Chairman of the ROH, Sir Colin Southgate, in a bid pull the world famous venue back from the verge of bankruptcy.

As part of the package, staff have been told they must accept re-negotiated working conditions and a substantially reduced workforce.

[ image:  ]
It is thought that they will be threatened with mass redundancies unless the programme is agreed.

Workers have been given until the end of October to agree to the new contracts.

Sir Colin said: "The days for fudging are long passed. The board is sad at the pain this will cause to our workforce, but only a total re-structuring will achieve real results.

"We cannot afford the present situation and yet we must not lose the Royal Opera House."

Mixed reaction to plan

[ image: Sir Colin Southgate: Battle to save money]
Sir Colin Southgate: Battle to save money
Under the proposal the house would close in January 1999 and re-open in December that year when its redeveloped site in London's Covent Garden should be ready.

The number of performances would be reduced by a third.

The Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, has welcomed the proposals and says he expects the ROH will receive extra funding from the Arts Council if the plan is enacted.

Chorus singer and union representative Andrea Hazel: Plan is very disappointing
However, Jim Johnstone, a national official for the BECTU union which represents many backstage technical staff, said that the implications of the plan for staffing levels and contracts were "horrendous".

"There is no guarantee that if new contracts are given, the government will fulfil its side of the bargain and give opera the funding it needs," he added.

Long-running drama offstage

The house's future has been under a cloud since the publication in July of a damning report into the capital's opera scene.

Sir Colin Southgate: Trying to secure a future for the house
The report's author, Sir Richard Eyre, alleged there had been widespread waste, incompetence and elitism under the ROH's then board of management, whose members have now been replaced.

Sir Colin, also the Chairman of EMI, has been battling to save the ROH from bankruptcy after years of poor financial performance marked by high-profile feuding among officials.

In March, the then Chief Executive resigned. Mary Allen was yet another victim of the continuing Covent Garden carnage.

Ms Allen had been in the job less than a year after controversially moving from her previous job at the Arts Council.

In February, the Director of Marketing, Keith Cooper, and the Finance Director, Richard Hall, left the opera house while the Technical Director, John Harrison, was asked to go amid restructuring.

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