Classical maverick cocks a snook at opera's old guard

Raymond Gubbay is a larger than life impresario who has done more than almost anyone to bring classical music to the British masses. Now he is taking Bizet's Carmen to the Royal Albert Hall... and he is furious. The Royal Opera House has tried to stop his new show, and the British musical establishment is cold- shouldering him, he told The Independent yesterday.

Gubbay, often sniped at by classical music's snootier elites for his populism, attacked the Royal Opera House for overmanning and restrictive practices after mounting a co-production with them a few years ago. Now he back on the attack, saying lottery money is being wasted on buildings the public will not visit, that it is "arrogant" of the Royal Opera and English National Opera to have no plans to tour, and that the subsidised companies are scared of commercial competition.

The head of the Royal Opera, Nicholas Payne, had a private meeting with him, he told us, and said "they wanted to do Carmen there themselves another time. The attitude was that because they are Covent Garden they can do what they like... It's protectionism, and why should I kow-tow to it?"

Gubbay, 50, once worked for Pathe Newsreel, where he used to hold the lights outside Number 10 Downing Street. He became a concert promoter in the Sixties and has carved out a reputation for his "classic spectacular" concerts with fireworks and lasers, and recitals by big-name artists such as Kiri Te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti, and the Teddy Bears concerts which introduce young children to classical music in a light-hearted way.

Carmen opens on 6 February and will run for 10 performances, with ticket prices all below pounds 40. It is expected to play to over 40,000 people.

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