Jobs protest at Opera House

John McKie on the crisis facing two of Britain's leading music institutions
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The Royal Opera House faced yet more bad publicity on the same night that their six-part BBC documentary The House ended.

The Opera House last night was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the performance of the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty with a gala performance starring Darcy Bussell. Those expected included the Queen and Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet, who nurtured the likes of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev.

But they were met outside by around 40 staff planning the biggest protest yet against predicted massive job cuts, and chanting: "Save Our House". A recent report in The Stage newspaper suggested that the ROH may cut as many as two in three of its 827 staff to 324, when it moves temporarily from its Covent Garden base in 1997 for three seasons.

The House's director of public affairs Keith Cooper admitted this was one of many options the House was considering but he maintained that no major decisions have yet been taken. The Royal Opera House has still to find a venue for the seasons before it returns its Covent Garden home in 1999, refurbished with pounds 78m of Lottery money.

The staff union BECTU are still in delicate negotiations with ROH management about job losses but the House has already announced 110 redundancies in the past three months.

The arts institution will be glad to see the end of the BBC documentary, which has depicted management squabbles, staff upheaval and production mishaps. But, just as the first night of The House documentary saw staff picket outside Sir Michael Tippett's the Midsummer Marriage, so, on the night the series ended, there was another picket for Sleeping Beauty. Organisers said before the 7pm performance that their protest was peaceful, and they would not disturb the heavy police presence.

The demonstration is only the latest in the opera house's travails.