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Friday, November 20, 1998 Published at 16:37 GMT


Opera boss outlines future plans

The Royal Opera House: Undergoing multi-million pound refit

The new executive director of the embattled Royal Opera House has outlined his vision for the future.

The world famous Covent Garden venue, which is undergoing a multi-million pound refurbishment with the help of a £78m lottery grant, is being forced to close for a year in a bid to stave off bankruptcy.

But American Michael Kaiser, who has a track-record for turning round troubled arts organisations, said he was confident that by 2002 there would be a season stretching across the full year.

He said he was sure that a new studio theatre at the controversial institution will open, despite fears that it might remain in darkness.

And he said that two years after it opens its doors - around 1 December 1999 - he is hoping the Opera House in London will be running to capacity, with full year-long seasons.

Mr Kaiser is the fourth person to take up the position within two years, following the resignations of his predecessors.

"I wouldn't have left an organisation that I love and a country that I love if I thought it was a poisoned chalice," he said, referring to his departure from his previous job with American Ballet Theatre.

He said much of his working life had been spent revitalising troubled organisations, and the cash-strapped Opera House was by no means the worst he had been involved with.

"This is very dramatic in terms of public perception," he said, but added that it did not compare with other institutions in terms of poor cash flow. At one organisation he had been forced "to turn off every second light bulb".
[ image: Sir Colin Southgate: Announced closure plans in September]
Sir Colin Southgate: Announced closure plans in September

Negotiations are still going on with unions at the opera venue about contracts for the closure period.

When it does throw open its doors it will not be running at full capacity, with a three-month gap in the programme during the first two summers as it finds its feet.

Among Mr Kaiser's intentions are cutting ticket prices to broaden the audience base, increasing the educational role of the Opera House and using the building for more activities during the day.

He will also be seeking more private sponsorship for the House, but said he would not be able to take a more "aggressive" stance to find it until the current negotiations with artists, donors and the government were complete.

He thought the Opera House was "moving away" from the repeated threats of insolvency which have dogged it in recent months.

"In my professional opinion I have to say that the problems are solvable," he said.

Mr Kaiser is also hoping to persuade music director Bernard Haitink that he should not resign.

"He knows my desire for him to stay and we had some very positive conversations," he said.

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