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