Arts: Two faces of the House

Opera and ballet were both celebrated at Covent Garden's gala re-opening, but worrying weaknesses were also revealed.

Dance: EVENT OF THE WEEK; Royal Opera House Wed BBC2

After all the wrangling, scandals and executive head-rolling, the Royal Opera House's transformation is finally complete, and it is opening its doors. To celebrate, the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera join together to present a gala programme, featuring guest dancers Sylvie Guillem (above), Irek Mukhamedov and Angel Corella, and guest singers Placido Domingo and Deborah Polaski. Want to go? Forget it, the audience is an invited one for the Wednesday performance. The programme does get repeated in a public performance the following Saturday, but there again forget that too - it's been sold out for weeks. However, you can watch the first performance on television, in a simultaneous broadcast on BBC2.

Letter: Operatic tradition

Sir: It is not elitism which keeps me from the Royal Opera House - it is seat prices. My daughter and I were keen to see Romeo et Juliette until we discovered that the price for a seat in the back of the gods was pounds 50. Until seat prices are affordable, Covent Garden will never be "the people's opera".

Music: Verdi festival? Which Verdi festival would that be?

Un Giorno di Regno Royal Festival Hall, London Verdi: Requiem Royal Festival Hall, London Anner Bylsma Assembly Rooms, Bath Raphael Wallfisch Assembly Rooms, Bath

SHOWCASE

Susan Gritton (above) has been singing professionally for only five years, but performs regularly at Glyndebourne and with the Royal Opera. She has just recorded `Theodora' for Deutsche Grammophon, and now returns to the role of Tiny in the RO's award-winning production of `Paul Bunyan' (Sadler's Wells, EC1, 0171 863 8000, from Friday)

Obituary: Leonard Hancock

LEONARD HANCOCK was an excellent conductor of opera, but his most valuable work during a long career was done, as it were, backstage in various opera houses, including Covent Garden, where he was on the music staff for several years. During that time he conducted the world premiere of Vaughan Williams's The Pilgrim's Progress.

Classical: Royal Opera has nothing to get cocky about

Royal Opera: The Golden Cockerel Sadler's Wells, EC1 D'Oyly Carte: The Pirates of Penzance Queen's Theatre, W1

The Critics' Awards 1998: Opera - The mighty fall at Royal Opera. And rise again at Wexford

This will be remembered as the year the Royal Opera hit rock bottom, but the fact is, things will probably get worse in 1999. And the quiet pleasure of watching the mighty fall has brightened not a few lives in Britain, where the company's woes have been a gift for anyone hostile to the public funding of serious art. The truth is that if Covent Garden had ever been properly funded it might not be in this mess. But then it's hard to demand more money for an organisation that, apart from being broke, is also mismanaged. Over the past two years, the board-room farce played out by sadly comic characters like Mary Allen and Lord Chadlington has hammered nails into the coffin, one after another. Company morale is at an all-time low. And it shows, badly, in the under-powered Bartered Bride currently playing at Sadler's Wells.

Soundbite of 1998: the Independent year

`We mustn't downgrade the Opera House. I don't want to sit next to somebody in a singlet, a pair of shorts and a smelly pair of trainers'

The Critics: The bride wore an outfit from Habitat

Royal Opera: The Bartered Bride Sadler's Wells, EC1 LSO: Elgar 2nd Symphony, CelloConcerto Barbican, EC2 Elgar on Film Barbican, EC2 European Union Baroque Orchestra Banqueting Hall, SW1

Opera: A right old song and dance

Even a feisty, all-dancing production of Smetana's The Bartered Bride can't put a spring into the steps of the Royal Opera company.

Classical: First Night: Bruckner's Seventh

It wasn't until he came to compose his mighty Symphony No 7 that Anton Bruckner (above) decided to augment his orchestral brass section with a quartet of Wagner tubas, using them to stunning effect. Richard Wagner invented the extra middle-register brass instrument as part of his expansion of tonal resources for his epic Ring of the Nibelungen tetralogy. He commissioned a set of tubas to his own design from a Berlin maker for the premiere of The Ring in Bayreuth in 1876.

Opera director's last stand falls flat

Covent Garden crisis: Bernard Haitink resigns over proposal to close for a year in attempt to repair finances

Arts: Bellows from the master ring-maker

Opera: THE RING ROYAL OPERA/ BERNARD HAITINK ROYAL ALBERT HALL

Music: Lords of the Ring

The Ring Royal Albert Hall, SW7 La Transfiguration de notre seigneur Jesus-Christ Barbican, EC2
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