Judge and Jury: No bouquets for a performance aiming to bring the house down - Communications inconsistencies took their toll on the major players when Chris Smith announced his proposed changes to London’s opera scene, says Chris Crowcroft, manag

This is a story of management overtaken by events. In varying degrees, the leadership of the two main players - the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Royal Opera - have not consistently followed the same script. Important constituencies for the Royal Opera remain uninformed.

This is a story of management overtaken by events. In varying

degrees, the leadership of the two main players - the Department of

Culture, Media and Sport and the Royal Opera - have not consistently

followed the same script. Important constituencies for the Royal Opera

remain uninformed.



It has been the professional’s worst fear, uncontrolled trial by

media.



On 30 October, the Royal Opera House hit the buffers in a highly public

fashion. Chairman of the Culture Select Committee, Gerald Kaufman, was

not happy about the manner of the loss of its previous chief

executive.



He was also unsympathetic about a box office slump which increased its

deficit to pounds 5 million. ’The Arts Council would be nuts to give you

an additional penny until you sort yourselves out,’ he said.



The ROH received terrible headlines and Leaders in the FT and Daily

Telegraph were critical. The general verdict was ’serves them right’.

Then, Culture Secretary Chris Smith announced dramatic plans for an

inquiry taking into account proposals to house the Royal Opera, Royal

Ballet and English National Opera in the same building. Significantly,

this brought ENO into play.



Royal Opera House chairman, Lord Chadlington, reacted positively: ’(it)

could lead to a solution and build on the strength of both houses.’



Chief executive, Mary Allen was cautious: ’an interesting idea ... but

seems to point to a pre-conceived solution’. She worried for the Royal

Ballet, the Cinderella in the plot.



ENO management was appalled. ’How can we retain an identity if we share

a building?’ its new musical director, Paul Daniel demanded.



Media reaction to the Smith plan was mixed. His deputy Mark Fisher gave

it a far more prescriptive interpretation, which he then had to

withdraw.



A special concern for ENO began to emerge.



Corporate sponsors - a significant body of shareholders - are largely in

the dark. Supporters are relying on the media for information, although

there have been passionate speeches from the stage at the ENO. One hopes

performers and staff are being kept properly informed. The impression is

of a single-issue crisis so grave that all other communications

responsibilities have taken second place.



It is a desperate rearguard action. David Mellor probably got it right:

’Chris Smith is entitled to send a shock wave throughout the London

opera scene’. But no one was successfully prepared for the

communications fall-out. Even as white knights emerge, surely no one

would want it to happen this way again.



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