Haitink, frustrated at the opera's tumultuous recent history, has written to Culture Secretary Chris Smith imploring him to reinstate the 1999 season. The last straw for Sir Bernard, already deeply concerned about the future of the opera, was the recent announcement that the plan for the company to transfer to Sadler's Wells theatre had been scrapped because of the cost.
Michael Berkeley, chairman of the opera advisory board and member of the Royal Opera House board, said last night: "He is worried that there will be a gap between the beginning of next year and the time when the new house is due to reopen and it is not possible for everybody to suddenly start again and be at peak form.
"Therefore he has made it very clear he would like to see us perform a lot more in the coming year. He is reserving his position (until Christmas) to see if it is worth continuing."
Sir Bernard's letter to Mr Smith "begged him to save something which he sees as extremely valuable", said Mr Berkeley.
The Dutch-born conductor has been with the company for the past 11 years, and his contract runs until 2002.
Sir Bernard's resignation - he is reported to have told Sir Colin Southgate "there is little point in being music director when there is no music to conduct" - is potentially the most serious in a long line of premature departures.
Last year, Genista McIntosh managed only four months as chief executive. Her replacement Mary Allen left in February while chairman Lord Chadlington resigned after just 15 months. Nicholas Payne, director of opera, went earlier this year while the director of corporate affairs Judy Grahame went last Thursday.
The opera house's Covent Garden home is due to close for its pounds 214m refit, including pounds 78.5m provided by the National Lottery, in January 1999.