Refurbishment is a national duty

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The Independent Online
Don't clap too loud, it's a very old building.

The Royal Opera House was built in 1858. It has survived the twentieth century, without modernisation. It cannot survive, it cannot even enter the twenty-first, in its present state.

Britain is not any longer a rich country. But it must, all the same, keep in good repair the infrastructure by which society is sustained. Roads, schools, hospitals, airports, railways need constantly to be renewed. So does industry. So do theatres.

Government recognised the Royal Opera House's needs in 1975 when it purchased the land on which we sit, and urged us to extend and develop on it. But it has never directly provided the wherewithal. Instead, it has come up with the National Lottery as an arm's length solution, not just for the needs of the arts, but for sport and for charities as well.

Each week, funds flow, in equal measure, into the coffers of five distributive arms. Just as much money is now available for distribution to sport and to charities as to the arts - much more than anyone expected, though you would never guess that from the current hoo-hah.

Our application for funds has been subjected to scrutiny, and judged to meet all the criteria, publicly set out, by which all are tested. Our application falls squarely within the remit that Parliament decreed, and disadvantages no one because, eight months into a seven-year process, there is plenty more to come.

With the money, we shall modernise the stage, enabling more performances; we shall spare the Royal Ballet the Tube journey from Barons Court, and rehouse them in Covent Garden; we shall improve amenity for audiences, ending the segregation which confines those in the upper parts of the house, welcoming them instead to the pleasures of a reconstituted Floral Hall, and to a fourth-floor open air loggia looking west across the completed market square. Jeremy Dixon's design for that will enhance the whole of Convent Garden.

A total of 600,000 people a year - 100,000 more than now - will enjoy our work in the theatre. Millions more will enjoy it on radio and television. Our educational work will thrive. The lyric arts, London, and Britain will all benefit. Today, we have reason to celebrate. So does the society to which we are grateful, and of which we are proud to be part.

Jeremy Isaacs

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