Opera company rejects pounds 2.5m overture

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The Independent Online
The D'Oyly Carte opera company, given pounds 100,000 of public money last week to save it, was offered pounds 2.5m of private money and a purpose- built Victorian opera house in Newcastle a year ago - an offer that is still on the table.

Yesterday, Newcastle businessman Karl Watkin, who owns the Tyne Theatre and Opera House, said that the famous Gilbert and Sullivan company just did not seem to want to operate from the North- east.

He said: "I am puzzled by all the weeping and wailing emanating from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which would be more appropriate to one of Gilbert and Sullivan's excellent operettas than to the state of the company today. They have treated me very shabbily and have behaved abysmally"."

He added that despite repeated requests, the D'Oyly Carte chairman, Sir Michael Bishop, who is also chairman of Channel 4, had not been in touch with him for two months and the company's general manager, Ray Brown, had not responded for seven months. "I have tried repeatedly to get hold of Sir Michael," he said.

"I certainly think it is wrong and appalling that an arts organisation should be able to get public funding while turning down private sector money." Last week at a press conference at the Arts Council, the council's secretary-general Mary Allen announced a one-off pounds 100,000 grant saying: "This is to stop the company closing."

Mr Watkin, a Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiast and a former North-east businessman of the year for his running of the Gateshead printing machine company Crabtree, says that he has offered the D'Oyly Carte, at present based in Birmingham, the use of the 1,000-seat opera house, rehearsal rooms and more than pounds 550,000 a year for five years.

A letter of intent was signed by both parties in December 1995, but since then, Mr Watkin says, there has been no progress. "I only made one condition," he said yesterday, "and that was that they commit themselves to becoming a world-class company.

"It does seem that they don't wish to move to Newcastle, which is frustrating as it is the fastest changing region in Europe, has just been voted the eighth best place in the world to have a party, and is the best region in the world for inward investment."

The Royal Shakespeare Company already mounts a season in the city.

Sir Michael Bishop was not available for comment yesterday, and Mr Brown refused to make any comment.

The Arts Council was meeting representatives of the company yesterday. A spokeswoman for the council said: "The pounds 100,000 grant we gave them was to keep them afloat because they told us they still have negotiations to do on their future plans."

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