Fresh turmoil at Royal Opera

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THE ROYAL Opera House has suffered yet another blow with the resignation yesterday of Judy Grahame, its director of external relations.

Bizarrely, Ms Grahame has become the second woman to find that working at Covent Garden is bad for the health. She is understood to have given colleagues precisely the same reason for leaving as did the former chief executive, Genista McIntosh, last year - she feared that the stress of working in the chaos of the Royal Opera House any longer could make her seriously ill.

Ms Grahame's departure means the all-important departments that sell tickets and promote opera and ballet performances are left without leadership. Although Sir Colin Southgate, the chairman, is closing down the opera company from the end of next January for a year, there are a number of performances in London before then. And the Royal Ballet is scheduled to perform regularly.

Ms Grahame, who joined from publicising the proms, has been a highly controversial figure. In an attempt to stop the decline in tickets sales, she wanted to bring in more efficient practices to the marketing department. But 38 members of the union Bectu passed a vote of no confidence in her.

The union made a series of allegations about her, which later it formally withdrew. Ms Grahame was believed to be furious that the Covent Garden management had not supported her by sacking the union members who had made the allegations.

Ms Grahame was not available for comment last night. There was also no comment from Mr Pelham Allen, acting chief executive of the ROH.

Mr Allen, seconded from accountants Coopers & Lybrand, is understood to be being paid about pounds 315,000 a year. He is to be replaced shortly by a new chief executive, Michael Kaiser, from the American Ballet Theatre in New York, who will be paid pounds 115,000. The ROH is still seeking an artistic director.

The departure of Ms Grahame comes only a few days after the highly popular Royal Ballet dancer Tetsuya "Teddy" Kumakawa left the company. With morale at rock bottom in both the ballet and opera companies, all staff are being made to agree to new contracts by the end of next week or face redundancy.

Despite the continuing crises, Sir Colin still expects the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, to increase the pounds 15m annual grant to the Royal Opera House by several million pounds of public money.