`I fell in love with opera - it was the best of everything'

revelations: harvey goldsmith
The time: 1986

The place: London

The man: Harvey Goldsmith - promoter and producer

"I WAS in the middle of booking a tour for Bruce Springsteen when his manager phoned to tell me Bruce had changed his mind and wanted Wembley Stadium. Previously he had not believed in open-air concerts so I had already paid the rent for 11 days at Earls Court. I had two months to find something else - impossible. So as we sat in the office panicking, I thought `maybe there is life outside rock'n'roll. What about a classical spectacular? I started ringing round all the orchestras and much to my horror they all laughed when I asked if they were available in July. They were booked three years in advance!

So we started to rack our brains about the kind of music we could perform. There were no big rock'n'roll acts around and I kept homing in on the classical field - thinking it had a wide listenership but an untested audience. One of the guys in the office had heard about an opera singer called Pavarotti who had just done a concert at Madison Square Gardens and suggested we checked him out. I had never heard of him but told my staff to book him. I was quite interested in opera but knew very little about it.

Unfortunately Pavarotti's manager questioned the validity of my being alive, let alone what right I had to pick up the phone and call him! Now I really was desperate, we were almost thinking of going to car boot sales to raise the money! However the animosity only served to make me more determined. So I kept pursuing, ultimately his manager said: `why should I work with people like you?' I replied: `How about money?' There was a silence and finally: `how much?' `How much do you need?' I told him stars in the classical world should be capable of earning the same sort of money as the Rolling Stones.

Ultimately I did not find anything for Earls Court - I had to eat the rent, but it made me very determined about classical music. Pavarotti's manager finally gave me a date in August the next year at Wembley. Not only did my contemporaries think I was mad, but the arts and classical press were virulently against me: "How dare this upstart get involved in our business and how dare he put someone as precious as Pavarotti on somewhere like that!" To be honest, they were horrible. But the concert was a huge success. We drew 9,500 people. Watching the audience I realised that here was another art form which was under-exposed. Pavarotti was ecstatic and took my mother and father into his dressing room and closed the door and sung two arias to them. I didn't know what was going on, so when my mother came out weeping and I asked: `what on Earth is the matter?' She replied: `my whole life has changed.'

I started going to opera and found it very exciting. It was a meld of the best of everything: a great story, beautiful music and singers with normally very interesting productions. I thought if I could expand this into a large space it would make an incredible spectacle. I wasn't brave enough to create my own production but bought one in from Verona, much to my amazement we sold 32,000 tickets in the first week and the final total was 127,000. Two years' worth in the Royal Opera house! After 20 years in the business, of all the shows I've been involved in, the first night of Carmen gave me the greatest thrill, my dream of creating a sun drenched oasis of Spain in the middle of Earls Court had come true.

I've learnt a lot about myself from moving into opera. I'm far more excited about producing than promoting, I now see myself as an impresario rather than somebody who just books dates and sells tickets.

Now I'm putting on Aida at Earls Court, which hopefully will be an annual event. I like this production because it is on a grand scale, with clever production technology which is almost 3D. We will be able to project the Pyramids and the Sphinx and the boat scene to create a spectacle in a much more vivid way than just shifting scenery around. The time feels right that these large-scale operas should return. I'm afraid I rarely enjoy my events - my favourite moment is always the reaction of the audience and the buzz as they leave. I hope that the response to Aida will be good because I'm passionate about introducing audiences to something I've got so much out of myself.

Interview by Andrew G Marshall

Aida is at Earls Court for three performances - 23, 24 and 25 April. Box office 0171 373 8141