Letter: Opera House crisis

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The Independent Online
Sir: The report of the select committee on the Royal Opera House is indeed hard-hitting, but appears to have hit several wrong targets and missed the right ones.

Why was the move to a new and relatively inexpensive temporary house at Tower Bridge, which would have been of long-term benefit to London, not wholeheartedly pursued? The board should have known that the Lyceum was not really viable: its access for scenery is cramped and its wing space was further constricted during redevelopment; but the Tower Bridge house would have met the needs of both ballet and opera. It could have been built in the time and where there is real will planning difficulties can, we know, be overcome.

What role did the snobbish belief that no one who was anyone would visit an opera house south of the river play in the board's attitude? And what role was played in it too by the necessity of attracting donations from the rich or corporate who might not have appreciated such a modern and workmanlike building on a hitherto insalubrious site?

The Opera House's most effective fund-raiser, Mrs Vivien Duffield, is exonerated in the committee's report, and, as it says, her indefatigable efforts have undoubtedly kept its two companies going. But inevitably, where public subsidy is not sufficient to support a public institution, the rich, and those who can attract the rich, will come to play a disproportionately large role in its decision making. Is that not what has been happening here, and what does the select committee think should be done about it?

The report is inadequate too in its rather philistine attitude to the "opera and ballet buffs"on the board. Boards of public institutions need to be balanced between those who know from the inside what the institution is about, those who know how to run things, and those who can raise money. An administrator in the arts needs all three qualities and the notion that a hard-nosed money man or a board composed mainly of fund-raisers could turn things round is simply ignorant.

Genista McIntosh, whose financial acumen is proven, was exactly the right kind of appointment as administrator. The real reasons why she apparently found the Opera House so stressful and the National Theatre not would tell us a great deal about what is wrong with the former. The committee does not seem to have got at them, but I hope Richard Eyre will.

Professor JOHN STEER

London SW17

The writer is a trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum and a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission

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