Anger as the Opera House goes private for a season

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The Independent Online
THE ROYAL Opera House has engaged a commercial promoter to stage a season by the Royal Ballet in the new lottery-funded opera house, The Independent has learned.

This means that hundreds of thousands of pounds from ticket sales are likely to go to the promoter rather than back into the coffers of the publicly funded institution.

Last night the Lottery Promotion Company, which monitors how lottery money is being spent, reacted angrily to the move. Its political consultant, Geoffrey O'Connell, said: "It's outrageous. The lottery was not set up to fund venture capitalism. It was meant to go to good causes."

The Royal Ballet summer season in July next year will be presented by the experienced dance and music promoter, Victor Hochhauser, as the ROH says it cannot afford to put it on. Profits from the season are expected to be large. Most of the Royal Ballet's stars, including Sylvie Guillem, Darcey Bussell and Irek Mukhamedov, should be available, and full houses are likely.

The decision has been authorised by the Royal Opera House's new executive director, Michael Kaiser, who joined the ROH from running a ballet company in New York.

It is not unusual for private promoters to present the Royal Ballet abroad or in other British venues. But it is unprecedented for one to present the company in its own home. The new opera house has benefited from pounds 78.5m of national lottery money. And from next month the taxpayers' annual contribution to the Royal Opera House will go up from a grant of pounds 13.3m to pounds 16m, rising to pounds 20m by April 2000.

One Royal Opera House source, who did not wish to be named, said: "We are probably talking about hundreds of thousands of pounds of profit here. If Victor Hochhauser can do it, then why on earth can the Royal Opera House not do it? It's the Royal Ballet's own house, the place which the public has funded. This is backdoor privatisation."

Victor Hochhauser said yesterday: "I suppose this is unprecedented, but, of course, I have promoted them elsewhere. I don't know if this will become a trend. I certainly hope it will."

A Royal Opera House spokeswoman said: "It's unusual, and it does look slightly bizarre to end up with Victor promoting the Royal Ballet in its own house. But the situation has come about because we are doing a limited season because of the financial difficulties we have had. Our season officially ends in May and the Hochhausers [Victor and his wife and business partner, Lillian] were very keen to promote us in London. Of course, they are not just doing it for love. But as we could not afford to put the company on, the situation is strange but logical."

The spokeswoman refused to divulge any details of the contract between the Royal Opera House and Victor Hochhauser. But the normal deal for private promoters is to pay a one-off fee and then to take all, or a large percentage, of the box office profits.

It has not yet been decided which ballets will be performed; but ROH sources said they are certain to be popular works playing to big audiences.

The Royal Opera House is expected to announce today the appointment of the conductor Antonio Pappano to succeed Sir Bernard Haitink as music director in 2002. Pappano, 39, was born in London. Since 1992 he has been music director of La Monnaie Opera House, Brussels. His most acclaimed recordings are a Puccini series for EMI. Sir Colin Southgate, former head of EMI, is chairman of the ROH.

One of Pappano's successes was to conduct opera's glamour couple, Angela Gheorgiu and Roberto Alagna, through a series of recordings. Before Brussels, Pappano held posts at New York City Opera, Barcelona, Chicago and Frankfurt. He was brought up in Pimlico, London, but the family emigrated to the US when Antonio was 13.