Faulty machinery causes a blight at the opera

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The Independent Culture

The Royal Opera House was plunged into new embarrassment last night when it was forced to cancel one of the highlights of its new season days before the televised gala reopening of the venue in front of the Queen.

The Royal Opera House was plunged into new embarrassment last night when it was forced to cancel one of the highlights of its new season days before the televised gala reopening of the venue in front of the Queen.

Despite closing for a year to allow the £214m redevelopment of the opera house in Covent Garden, aided by £78m in lottery money, it is believed some of the new machinery is not working and scenery cannot be shifted.

It is also understood a proposal to cancel Verdi's Falstaff, the opening production, was dropped after strong protest from Sir Bernard Haitink, the Royal Opera's music director. Sir Bernard is conducting Falstaff, which will be on BBC2.

Instead, the executive director, Michael Kaiser, gave the order to cancel another production, Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre - a tale of sex, politics and corruption - which was to follow Falstaff as the second presentation of the season. It was to have been conducted by Esa-Pekkha Salonen, starring Willard White, and directed by the American Peter Sellars. Opening was scheduled for 10 December, four days after Falstaff. All six performances are cancelled.

That is the last thing the ROH and the Government wanted, having made much of the house's reopening as an untroubled, accessible "people's opera". The management has successfully orchestrated a surprising amount of uncritically favourable publicity, helped by Cherie Blair visiting a preview performance by the Royal Ballet this week.

Last night there was another preview for the builders and other workers on the redevelopment project. And tonight Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, attends a further preview for the arts world. The gala re-opening in front of the Queen and starring Placido Domingo is scheduled for tomorrow week. The season proper - without Le Grand Macabre - starts a few days later. Ticket-holders will be offered refunds.

The classical music promoter and opera producer Raymond Gubbay said last night: "It seems very sad after such a long closure period that this widely heralded production has been chopped because of technical difficulties which surely could have been foreseen."

Michael Kaiser said: "We have taken this decision with the greatest reluctance and after considering all possible alternatives.

"We are opening a huge, new and complex building, and there are inevitably areas where we are encountering unexpected obstacles."

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