Plans for a people's opera strike a blow at powers of cultural elite

Never before has a government minister transgressed so publicly and blatantly the 50-year-old `arms length' principle of arts funding. David Lister, Arts News Editor, examines the background to last night's announcement by Chris Smith on future of the Royal Opera House last night

The Culture Secretary dropped more than one bombshell. His proposal that the Royal Opera House become a receiving house for three "equal partner" companies - the Royal Opera, the Royal Ballet and English National Opera - was radical enough.

His further proposal that all three become true "people's companies" and tour the country and run education schemes was a further cultural intervention by the Government. His third announcement, that in his words "stonemasons will remove the words Royal Opera House" from that building and it will simply be called Covent Garden will have the cultural establishment reeling.

It is Mr Smith who is now making cultural policy. In making this dramatic change he has been helped by two things. First, the shambolic state of affairs at the Royal Opera House, whose board was accused by the chairman of a select committee as being "a self-perpetuating oligarchy".

No longer. With all public sympathy for the ROH extinguished, the opera and ballet companies have simply been taken away from that ROH board by Mr Smith, and the English National Opera, for so many years a junior partner in London, has been bought in on an equal footing.

The second factor is the National Lottery. Increasingly, Mr Smith has been working behind the scenes to ensure that cash for the arts from the lottery is used to benefit the nation. Significantly, he said last night: "We must stop getting fixated with buildings. We are taking money out of bricks and mortar and putting it into cultural activity."

Reflect on the words "we are taking." The Government was not meant to "take", give or move any National Lottery money in the arts. All that came under the Arts Council. With one announcement last night Mr Smith signalled the end not just of Covent Garden's self-perpetuating oligarchy, not just of two opera houses in London, but also of the 50-year-old power of the unelected Arts Council to manage cultural life in this country.

When I asked Mr Smith where the Royal Ballet might be during times when it is not in Covent Garden, he waxed lyrical about spaces in Salford and Bristol. New Labour is serious about people's opera and people's ballet and clearly want national companies to be just that from now on.

But there remain many questions to be asked. Foremost, what will happen to the London Coliseum, one of the most distinguished opera houses in Europe. Mr Smith says vaguely that there are many options. That is too vague.

Second, does Lord Chadlington remain chairman of the Royal Opera House and Mary Allen its chief executive or do they become chairman and chief executive of either or both the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet companies? Again, Mr Smith is vague.

Certainly, neither person will have a job with the same power that they have now. But then the people's party has broken the power of the Royal Opera House as surely as the stonemason will chip away at the words on the building in Bow Street.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape