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Thursday, November 12, 1998 Published at 15:44 GMT

UK Politics

Opera lovers urge government action

The Royal Opera House could close for most of next year

Supporters of the Royal Opera House have handed in a 15,000-name petition to Downing Street in protest at plans to close it for almost a year.

Staff say it is a national scandal that the government will not give any more money to the debt-ridden opera house.

[ image: Gina Boaks hands in the petition to Number 10]
Gina Boaks hands in the petition to Number 10
Organisers of the petition want the government to step in to halt the management's plan to save money by staging no opera for 11 months next year.

Covent Garden is currently being refurbished and plans to reopen in the latter part of next year.

Gina Boaks, librarian at the Royal Opera House, told BBC News Online: "We are trying to achieve the sort of funding that international opera houses have."

But she acknowledged that: "People will be tired of the Royal Opera House asking for more [public] money but we only get half of what any opera house abroad gets.

"I don't think there is a way of spending public money better than on the arts because the arts are an enrichment of life. People will say you could build hospitals for the same amount of money, and that's fine and of course I would agree, but I just think that the enrichment of life the arts give is something unsurpassed."

[ image: Work will finish next year]
Work will finish next year
The petition has been backed by La Scala in Milan, which receives twice as much state funding as the Royal Opera House and its sister company the Royal Ballet.

The management is currently in talks over the closure next year with unions.

The government is due to announce a package next month of extra cash for the opera house, which already receives the largest arts subsidy in the country.

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