ANOTHER VIEW: No more hand-outs for the Royal Opera House

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The Independent Online
The National Lottery (but perhaps not Camelot) is here to stay, and there is nothing wrong with the notion that money raised from it should go to various so-called good causes. However, the distribution of funds with a heavy bias towards London and, in particular, the massive grant to the Royal Opera House has raised considerable disquiet.

I do not want deliberately to knock those at the Royal Opera House - as anyone who saw Tuesday night's opening episode of the television series The House will know, they are sadly quite good at doing that for themselves. However, we do have to address the question of whether Covent Garden should have been given this kind of money from the lottery, especially in view of its impact on other projects. Its grant came right on top of the debacle of the Churchill Papers, where the nation found itself paying pounds 12m for documents it thought it already owned.

The Opera House grant has proved so contentious that, as a result, it appears the Cardiff Bay Opera House lottery application (made to the Millennium Fund) has been thrown out and I doubt whether any other opera project will get lottery funding in the foreseeable future.

So Cardiff will continue to have no proper opera house, no home for the Welsh National Opera and no receiving house for ballet, large-scale musicals and shows. For, unlike the Royal Opera House redevelopment which is only concerned with providing for opera and ballet performances, Cardiff's would have allowed for the staging of a much greater variety of events.

Yet at the Royal Opera House, ordinary people cannot afford pounds 50 per ticket to sit at the front of what used to be called the gods for standard opera performances, let alone up to pounds 140 for a decent seat. Lottery funds should mean greater access - and not, as with the case of the Opera House, a grant to maintain an unacceptable status quo.

Now that Covent Garden has its lottery funds, am I alone in resenting the constant moans from Floral Street asking for more money for Covent Garden and of being told that we spend less on opera than other countries? An annual grant of nearly pounds 20m, plus pounds 78.5m of lottery money towards the redevelopment, does not sound too bad to me, especially for an organisation that does not seem to know what will happen to its resident opera and ballet companies when it closes for the redevelopment in 18 months' time.

It is hard enough to argue the case for arts funding when schoolchildren go without books, students sometimes have no grants at all, when hospital wards are closing through lack of funds and when the elderly can no longer depend on the state to support them. Covent Garden must learn to take its place alongside everything else when it comes to funding.

The writer is a classical music and opera promoter. Last night he debated the use of lottery funds with Jeremy Isaacs, of the Royal Opera House, at the Oxford Union.

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