Arts & Media: Royal Opera chiefs face up to resignation calls

Royal Opera House chiefs will resist expected calls for their resignations when a House of Commons Select Committee publishes its report today. David Lister, Arts News Editor, finds the mood defiant at Covent Garden.

A Commons report is expected today to deliver a damning indictment of the management at the Royal Opera House and call for the resignations of its chairman, chief executive and possibly the whole board.

The report by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will be published this morning. During the committee's proceedings, its chairman Labour MP Gerald Kaufman described the running of the Opera House as a "shambles".

His committee's report is likely to be strident. Even as it was taking evidence over the last month the House nearly went bankrupt and ticket sales at London venues used while the Royal Opera House is closed for redevelopment have been very poor.

The ROH received pounds 78m of Lottery money, and the former Chief Executive Genista McIntosh resigned in May after only four months in the post.

Mary Allen, the new Chief Executive brought in from the Arts Council by the Chairman, Lord Chadlington, without the post being advertised, said yesterday she accepted that the report would probably have strong things to say. But she stressed that neither she nor Lord Chadlington - as Peter Gummer, formerly PR adviser to the Conservative Party - would resign unless the Government specifically told them to do so. She said: "I have been here three months and I have done a lot of work to improve the morale of the staff which was very low when I arrived. The most important thing is the welfare of the staff and we should not do anything that will be disruptive."

She also stressed that all the arrangements for the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet during the closure of Covent Garden were made before she arrived.

But she did reveal that the ROH was on course to lose a staggering pounds 10m more than it had budgeted to lose during the closure period, and this on top of its deficit of pounds 5m. This would have driven it into certain bankruptcy if benefactors had not put together an emergency package.

The Select Committee report, which will be considered by the Government, comes just after the Culture Secretary Chris Smith has set up a review body under Sir Richard Eyre, former head of the National Theatre, to explore the possibility of the Royal Opera, Royal Ballet and English National Opera sharing Covent Garden, with the Covent Garden building itself becoming a receiving house.

Mr Smith has also indicated that he has not ruled out the option of privatising Covent Garden on the model of the Glyndebourne Festival opera.

However, Mary Allen pointed out yesterday that such an extreme course of action would run into one immediate problem - the fact that Covent Garden had received pounds 78 million of public money through the National Lottery.

Mrs Allen has already embarked on cost-cutting measures, and will next month announce a slimmed down programme for both the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet.

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