Plans for a people's opera strike a blow at powers of cultural elite
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Tuesday 04 November 1997
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.
- 1 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 2 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 Spiritual leader allegedly manipulated 400 men into removing testicles to be 'closer to God'
Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Spiritual leader allegedly manipulated 400 men into removing testicles to be 'closer to God'
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest supplier to the UK'...
£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Junior Software Deve...
£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Sales Executive ...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Night Porters are required to join a family-ow...