It’s hard to recall now that 10 years ago if there was one British institution synonymous with crisis, it was not the BBC but the Royal Opera House. Tony Hall’s achievement there has been to bring stability and a sense of effortless class and national pride, somehow mixed with accessibility, first-class appointments and high-quality products. Small wonder that the BBC wants him back.
High among his achievements are increasing the number of cheaper seats, holding special evenings for first-time opera-goers and appointing a head of opera and a head of ballet who are keen to widen the repertoire. The ballet of Alice in Wonderland and the opera Anna Nicole (about the life of the Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith) have come during the Hall regime.
He has also made it a priority to increase access, not just through the pricing structure, but through a massive increase in the number of productions and performances filmed for the multiplex and for TV. Having said all that, it remains true that prices for many at the ROH can still be high. But this is part of the Hall cleverness. Where he can make some change, he is a good propagandist and knows how to paint the brightest possible picture to the world.
Now the spotlight falls on the Royal Opera House and who will succeed him. Highly regarded music director Antonio Pappano could be promoted, while other names include John Berry, head of the English National Opera, David Pickard, artistic director at Glyndebourne, and Jude Kelly, who has made London’s South Bank Centre a truly vibrant artistic hub.