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People: Royal Opera director defects to the ENO

Nicholas Payne, director of the Royal Opera has defected to the English National Opera, where he will become general director. The move, predicted three weeks ago in The Independent, will be a blow to the Royal Opera House, only just recovering from a damning report by a House of Commons select committee. Indeed, the new ROH chairman, Sir Colin Southgate, said when he was appointed last month that he would not consider it to be a great start for him if Mr Payne left. Mr Payne had previously shown his disillusionment at Covent Garden, publicly describing remarks by former chairman Lord Chadlington about the opera company's finances as "bollocks".

Mr Payne, 53, has been director of the Royal Opera company for five years. He is the first person to move from Covent Garden to the nearby London Coliseum at such a senior level, formerly ran Opera North and at the ENO will be reunited with music director Paul Daniel, who worked with him at Opera North. Mr Payne will be anxious that the inquiry being led by Sir Richard Eyre will rule out the option of the English National Opera sharing Covent Garden with the Royal Opera, as suggested by Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture.

Mr Payne said yesterday: "English National Opera is a superb company, playing a unique role in the popularising of opera in this country. I am honoured to be asked to lead the company, in partnership with Paul Daniel, during these challenging times. None the less, it will be a wrench to leave Covent Garden, where I have been privileged to work with great artists and wonderful colleagues. All of them have my thanks and best wishes for the journey ahead."

Mr Daniel added: "Nicholas Payne is a formidable champion of opera and has an inspiring reputation for adventure mixed with huge experience. I am delighted that he and I can resume the creative partnership we enjoyed at Opera North, and I warmly welcome him to ENO."

John Baker, chairman of the ENO board, said: "Nicholas Payne's outstanding career, both as director of the Royal Opera and prior to that as general administrator of Opera North, will bring to ENO a high level of proven ability. Working together with Paul Daniel, he will lead the company forward at a time of great change in the arts."

Mr Payne will take up his appointment in the summer. Until then Mr Daniel will continue to lead the company.