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How Tony Hall changed the rules of running an opera house

In a dozen years at Covent Garden, Tony Hall did more than just stabilise a company that had become almost ungovernable. The former BBC head of news, once the storms abated, redefined the role of chief executive of an opera house for the 21st century – a manager who lets artists take care of artistic decisions and concerns himself chiefly with financial control and general strategy.

Hall returned this week to the BBC as director general. In the April issue of Standpoint magazine, I assess his legacy:

Hall brought a new sanity to the art of running an opera house. His formula consisted of 24/7 commitment, a dose of common sense, a capacity to delegate and an extensive knowledge of management theory, of which he became a bit of a wonk under John Birt’s tutelage. To general acclaim, it worked. There were no major disasters on his watch and the ROH is healthier now in every department than when he arrived. 

These are lessons that need to be learned at La Scala where, as I write, a premiere has been postponed because the anarchic stage crew could not safely erect a set; in Barcelona, where economic crisis almost shut the Liceo; in Paris, where style reigns as substance wanes; indeed, everywhere that opera is performed. Running an opera house is not about singing and dancing. It’s about getting all your ducks in a row and letting them bob in harmony. Opera needs dispassionate, professional management. Now set that to music.




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  1. This is hilarious! Dull, unimaginative productions one after the other. This season’s new opera productions (excepting Written on Skin which is effectively a buy-in) have been Robert le Diable, Onyegin and now Nabucco – all hopeless. But of course that’s nothing to do with the boss who is leaving those things to the “artists”… If this is the model for the 21st Century then we might as well all give up…

    • youngsop says:

      In your opinion. Personally, I loved Onegin despite initial skepticism, found Robert le Diable an interesting (but probably-never-to-be-repeated) rarity, and am looking forward to seeing Nabucco. Twice. With a cast that most will agree exemplifies some of the best Verdian singing around today. Not to mention the ballet… The subjectiveness of taste is rather the point, surely, when it comes to art? Regardless, Tony Hall’s era at the ROH does seem to have been a model of administrative excellence, and he has involved himself minimally, if at all, in artistic decisions – a wise approach one might wish was emulated more widely.

  2. Let’s start with ditching the licence fee then, it must be value for money with all those compulsory ads on C4, 5 and ITV!!!

    Unbelievable arrogance.

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