The Feral Beast: Making operatic overtures

Eats reports and leaves
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The Independent Online

Runners and riders for the Royal Opera House Stakes are lining up, with the departure of Covent Garden's chief executive, Tony Hall, to become director general of the BBC. Likely to refuse at the first fence is Simon Robey, chair of the ROH trustees, as are top bods at nearby houses such as the National Theatre, where Nicholas Hytner is thought to be too hands-on artistically for a job that requires more wheeling and dealing than choosing taffeta for Tosca. Loretta Tomasi at English National Opera might be drawn to a salary of around £400,000, around three times her present one, but in the past the job has gone to those outside the performing arts. Jeremy Isaacs, in harness from 1987 to 1986, came from Channel 4. That paves the way nicely for musicophile Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, whose name is being whispered sotto voce, and who might, post-Leveson, fancy a change of tune.The dream appointment for some would be Michael Grandage, who put the Donmar Warehouse on the map, and whose two operatic productions in this country have been highly praised. But he is thought to be unlikely to want to trade his new freedom for the boardroom. That leaves the field open for the big beasts in the shadows of Westminster. Whatever happened to that keen opera-lover Michael Portillo? At only 59 he'd be good for a few more acts – but he might have a rival. Says my man in the gods: "David Mellor would kill for it."

President Blair

Tony Blair's office rose gratifyingly to the bait last week when mischievous members of the "Blair for President" group picketed his talk at Chatham House in central London. The anti-EU lobbyists pitched up outside the St James's Square think-tank with heavily ironic posters, ostensibly campaigning for Blair's elevation (to a job that doesn't exist). The group has acclaimed Blair for "the important work he has been doing around the world for peace and religious tolerance, working closely with the Kazakhstan government to achieve human rights". Blair's office duly got a bit sniffy, and there was menacing talk of the former PM being "misrepresented" and of getting the Blair for President website taken down. Wiser folk, such as my esteemed colleague and Blair biographer John Rentoul, were delighted. "It's such a relief to have some witty mockery after the poison of the haters over the past decade," he tweeted.

Kissed all over

Unflappable BBC veteran Richard Lindley must have rolled his eyes when the Newsnight/Savile fiasco unfolded, having recorded the decline and fall of another once great programme in his book Panorama: 50 Years of Pride and Paranoia. In it, he tells how, on 9/11, the reporter Tom Mangold was ordered home from a US assignment, despite being only an hour away from Washington, while other journalists were piled on to a plane from London that was forced to leave them stranded in Canada.But it took a vending machine at Perugia airport to wrongfoot Lindley last week. Squeezing his trolley past a cache of Baci, Italy's favourite chocolate and hazelnut "kisses", he nudged the dispenser's loose window and triggered a deluge of confectionery. Ankle-deep in sweets, and vainly attempting to stop the flow, like the sorceror's apprentice, he gamely waded in to help the employee who patiently scooped bonbons worth hundreds of euros into bags. Alas, there are no eye-witness reports of what ensued. But who wouldn't have been tempted, once the London flight had taken off, to pile the dusted-down chocs back into the machine?

Puppy Portillo

A couple of final comments on attitudes to the press, from the week's media. The Camden New Journal website reports that Ricky Gervais told a Hampstead audience on Wednesday that Britain had the "worst press in the world". "The attitude is just different in America," he said, "and I'm talking about the areas of New York I know," said Gervais. "You open the paper there, and it's all fun and 'look at this good news'. It makes you want to skip. Open a paper when you get back to England and it's 'ha, ha, ha – everything is bad'… I love England, but I do love New York too. I've never felt more at home as a foreigner there." And from the former Tory minister Michael Portillo came a gracious admission about his pliancy towards press barons which goes rather further than David Cameron's pale mea culpa. On Thursday night, mercifully well after the watershed, he confessed to viewers of Andrew Neil's This Week programme: "I licked the bottom of the Murdoch press."

Rose blossoms

Judi Dench, Janet Suzman and James Fox are among luvvies popping their corks at news that the theatre in which Shakespeare acted has, at the third attempt, won Lottery funding. The £1.4m windfall for the Rose Southbank, of which they are patrons, paves the way for stabilising the theatre's foundations and reinstating a stage and auditorium a few yards south of the Thames – and near Shakespeare's Globe, Sam Wanamaker's re-creation of another Elizabethan playhouse. Shakespeare is known to have acted at and written for the Rose, which also gave first performances of Marlowe's dramas. Plays put on there included Hamlet – and Rose supporters can even produce a skull excavated in the props area. Also jubilant will be Dustin Hoffman, who campaigned when the site was rescued from developers in the Eighties. He is currently in love with all things British, since directing Quartet, filmed at Hedsor House, Buckinghamshire, with Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Tom Courtenay, and opening next month.

Goggles off

Journo Julie Burchill has long admitted to being a philo-Semite, and even pretended to be Jewish in her first job interview at the NME. But why was marrying someone Jewish so important to her? Burchill, who now lives in Brighton with her third husband, Daniel Raven, says:

"I just had the hots for them, to be honest. But the love of my life has turned out to be a non-neurotic, anti-Zionist of Irish extraction – so I can now regard the Jews without the goggles of lust. And I admire them just as much." As ever with Burchill, there is a caveat. "I read that David Baddiel thinks it bad that I 'fetishise' the Jews – so I would like to reassure him that there is not the least danger of me ever fetishising him."

Leveson legs it

Should you be in Australia and thinking of catching up with Brian Leveson, one of the dates for your diary is this coming Friday, when he'll be at the Shangri La Hotel (seems fitting, somehow) in Sydney for a conference on privacy. But with tickets priced at A$950 (about £620) you'll need to be a lawyer to afford it.

Uses for a dead shark... er, um

Prices for paintings by masters of the 20th century such as Rothko and Picasso seem to rise unstoppably, but in the wake of reports last week that the bottom is dropping out of Damien Hirst, another reliable barometer of public taste is showing worryingly low readings for the not-so-Young British Artist. Tate bookshops are already selling Hirst calendars for 2013 at a 20 per cent discount. Translate that drop into sales of full-size works and before you know, Poundstretcher will be saddled with diamond skulls that it can only shift on Buy One Get One Free. Sell! Sell! Sell!