Opera house documentary lifts lid on backstage crisis

Covent Garden on film: Fly-on-the-wall BBC television series set to reveal a picture of discord behind the lavish scenery

The Royal Opera House has joined the growing list of British institutions that have attempted to win the heart of the nation by opening their doors to fly-on-the-wall camera crews.

But instead of images of passionate music-making and enthused music- lovers, the documentary shows a saga of gloomy staff, cursing directors and disgruntled opera-goers caught up in various disputes.

A BBC camera crew followed the life of the Opera House for a year, through the 1993-94 season, to create the six-part series to be shown from next month. Opera house officials had anticipated a celebration of its creative achievements, rather than an insight into tensions behind the lavish scenery. But Jeremy Isaacs, general director of the Opera House, said he was foolish to have expected such a film and claimed it was not a true reflection of the company. "It was naive of me to think we would get a measured picture of our work. I don't think it is that at all," he said.

Even Mr Isaacs's former career as a television executive did not protect him from the probing eye of the camera. He is seen in full flight angrily uttering a four-letter word, after the Arts Council resisted giving extra funding to pay for an alternative venue while the opera house is rebuilt under a pounds 200m redevelopment plan. The series gives a close-up account of the trials of the Opera House, including a spending crisis on Anthony Dowell's production of Sleeping Beauty, called "absolutely catastrophic" by the opera house chairman Sir Angus Stirling in a boardroom row with Isaacs.

Staff struggle with outdated machinery; attempts to show that opera is not elitist are undermined by a shot of the Princess of Wales in the grand tier, while a working-class woman searches for her cut-price seat in the gods. Even Peter and Bill, the barmen in the Crush Bar, hate each other after three decades.

So why do prestigious institutions with troublesome public images lay themselves bare for the camera? The Opera House was anxious to justify its funding after years of allegations of elitism and profligacy in expectation of a large lottery bid - it was awarded pounds 55m.

According to its supporters, the Opera House will still benefit from television exposure. "It's a good thing when fly-on-the-wall crews lift the lid off how arts institutions work, warts and all," Graeme Kay, editor of Opera Now magazine said. "People will be quite surprised to find out how much dedication there is and it is providing productions that are the best in the world in terms of how much money they have to play with."

But a leading arts administrator said: "These institutions always think they are going to get something out of it that will enhance their image and then they're upset when they don't just get the straight PR puffery."

In the last three decades British institutions that have been wooed by the cameras include the police, the foreign office, the monarchy, a local golf club in Northwood, where all eight directors were forced to resign after it was shown as a bastion of male chauvinism, and the England football team, whose then manager, Graham Taylor, showed a colourful turn of phrase and temper.

At the Opera House an outburst of temper is displayed by Sir James Spooner, chairman of the opera board, who accuses Mr Isaacs of giving designers and directors too much freedom. "It really does annoy me, these grand people. They really are bastards the way they play us about like this . . . you don't kick 'em hard enough," he says.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Business Intelligence Consultant - Central London - £80,000

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?