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.