Arts: A woman to replace Isaacs at the ROH

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A woman looks certain to take over the running of the Royal Opera House, in London, for the first time. Four high-profile women in the arts are being considered by the ROH board to take over as general director when Sir Jeremy Isaacs retires next year. But it is understood that the nature of the post is likely to change

The present director of the Royal Opera, Nicholas Payne, looks likely to continue in that key role on the artistic side and be an important influence on artistic policy at Covent Garden. The post of general director will become much more an administrative role, with the new occupant working alongside Mr Payne.

An unofficial short-list of four leading women in the arts has been considered by the ROH board. The quartet comprises Genista Mackintosh, executive director at the Royal National Theatre; Mary Allen, secretary-general of the Arts Council; Elaine Padmore, a much- praised opera intendant and broadcaster and Ruth McKenzie who ran the Nottingham Playhouse and won it a national reputation.

Genista Mackintosh is looking like the favourite for the job. As executive director at the National Theatre, she has run the administrative and production side after moving to the National from the RSC, while Richard Eyre has been the more high-profile artistic director. A similar arrangement with Mr Payne at Covent Garden would appeal to the ROH board.

Mary Allen has publicly stated that she would not be taking the job, but this possibility is nevertheless not being ruled out either at the ROH or the Arts Council. Ruth McKenzie is thought to lack sufficient national experience, while Elaine Padmore, though much admired at Covent Garden, might want to continue her career as a director of operas both in Britain and abroad.

Peter Jonas, the former general director of the English National Opera (ENO), now running the Staatsoper in Munich was also high on the ROH's list of desirable properties, but he is understood to be unwilling to leave Munich at present.

The new general director will join at a fraught period in the ROH's history. Next year, the house closes down for two years for redevelopment.

The Royal Opera will perform at a number of London venues, including the Barbican Centre, and the Royal Ballet will perform both in London and will tour nationally and internationally. Nearly 300 redundancies are planned because of the temporary move from Covent Garden, and the new general director will have to cope with the industrial relations repercussions from this.

In addition to these problems, the ROH is now without a finance director at a time when it must raise millions of pounds for its redevelopment to match the lottery money it has received. The finance director Clive Timms resigned from the Royal Opera last month for personal reasons.