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
Monday 18 December 1995
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Staff struggle with outdated machinery; attempts to show that opera is not elitist are undermined by a shot of the Princess of Wales in the grand tier, while a working-class woman searches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.
Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'
Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance
- 1 As an ex prostitute, I urge all the political parties to commit to the Sex Buyer Law
- 2 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 3 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Couple die within 28 hours of each other after being married for 73 years
Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
Isis releases first video showing the stoning of woman accused of committing adultery as her father shouts 'don't call me Dad'
Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
Diwali: What is the festival of lights and how is it celebrated around the world?
Nelson Bunker Hunt dead: Former world’s richest man dies in 'modest circumstances' in US after losing his fortune
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...
£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...
£65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...
£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...