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Analysis: What will become of Covent Garden after Tony Hall?

Cast your minds back 15 years. The Royal Opera House was closed for reconstruction, almost out of money and on the wrong side of the New Labour Government. Every day was a battle for survival. Every night could have been its last.

The American turnaround king Michael Kaiser took much of the credit for hauling the house out of the mire – as you may read in my book, Covent Garden: The Untold Story – but Kaiser quit in 2001 before the job was fully done and it was left to an unlikely successor to seal the deal.

Tony Hall, head of news at the BBC, came in at precisely twice Kaiser’s salary, but very soon proved his worth. He poured oil on troubled waters, showed a knack for anticipating trouble and put the house of a firm financial footing.

Kicking the Arts Council out of his board meetings, he established a position where the ROH raises almost as much in private donations as in state subsidy. Succession issues at both opera and ballet companies were sleekly handled and, in his spare time, Hall’s last chairmanship saved the Cultural Olympiad from total chaos.

He’s the right man for the top BBC job, announced this morning.

But who will Covent Garden turn to next?

Top of the shortlist will be Glyndebourne’s David Pickard, a man in Hall’s quiet mode and, at 51, half a generation younger.

Peter Alward of Salzburg’s Easter Festival can expect a headhunter’s call.

Graham Vick, long out of favour at ROH, will command a strong body of outside support.

Anthony Freud, of Lyric Opera, formerly of Welsh National Opera, will come into the frame – even though he’s just ito his first year in Chicago.

Do not discount Nicholas Hytner, who may have done all he can at the National Theatre and has a lifelong passion for opera and ballet.

The ROH chairman, Simon Robey, may have an eye on the job.

Those must be front runners. All dark horse suggestions gratefully received.


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  1. Sebastian Petit says:

    How can someone from Morgan Stanley be a suitable candidate for RO job? Am I missing something?!

  2. Victoria Clarke says:

    Convert it into a luxury bowling complex and Gala bingo, no one likes opera anyway. That would solve the elitism problem.

  3. How about Michael Henson? (Just kidding.)

  4. No no, no that’s not the way. As they found with Tony Hall you need a business and media background, not a creative one. Any opera director in that job is a disaster waiting to happen. I wouldn’t go for a banker either, you need someone with their feet on the ground.

    As it happens I know just the one for the ROH, currently heading up an international music group.

    • Robert Slotover says:

      No no no, THAT’s not the way. What you need is someone who has a business and media background AND a creative one. Who is that man? Sir Brian McMaster – EMI executive, casting manager at ENO, General Director of Welsh National Opera, Vancouver Opera and Edinburgh Festival, adviser to the Arts Council, Government and Mayor of London and much else besides. Apart from all of this, Sir Brian is the only person among those mooted for the position with a lifelong knowledge of what the Royal Opera House is about. Who else attended all 6 of Klemperer’s performances of ‘Lohengrin’ and other legendary evenings over the last 50 years? Arts companies lose the thread of who they are when headed by those who are not only from outside the arts world but have no knowledge of it.

  5. Sorry, but this is a bit off topic (but not entirely unrelated).

    Some time ago, someone produced figures showing that attendance at performing arts events in the UK exceeded attendance at football matches in any given year. I remember because my initial scepticism disappeared when someone pointed out to me that all but a few football matches are quite poorly attended.

    I’d be grateful if anyone could tell me who produced these figures and whether anything similar is currently available?

    • Elizabeth Owen says:

      Back in the 80′s I think. the Theatrical Management Association produced figures showing that all theatres in Britain paid more in VAT due to ticket sales than football clubs. They may have done a further study since then.

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