Sian Edwards, the 36-year-old music director of the English National Opera, has resigned in a move that has taken the opera world by surprise.
Her decision comes after a sustained period of criticism and sniping at the ENO by music critics.
Ms Edwards was appointed to her post by the chairman of ENO, Lord Harewood, in 1993. The appointment was endorsed by the then new general director of English National Opera, Dennis Marks.
The two of them replaced the highly successful triumvirate of Peter Jonas, Mark Elder and David Pountney. But, although their latest production, Jonathan Miller's Carmen, sold out, their record overall has been patchy.
Ms Edwards decision to leave the highest profile post that a female conductor has attained in Britain could not come at a worse time for the ENO.
The company is considering whether to put in a bid for National Lottery money in order to redevelop its home at the London Coliseum, and would have preferred not to be showing signs of instability.
Neither Ms Edwards nor Mr Marks were prepared to speak about the resignation yesterday. Both issued bald statements which threw no real light on what lay behind Ms Edwards' unhappiness at the company.
In her statement, Ms Edwards paid tribute to the orchestra and to music staff but did not mention Mr Marks.
Observers yesterday were questioning the wisdom of the ENO's decision not to renew Mr Pountney's post of director of productions, which meant that Ms Edwards did not have another creative figure at the same level in the ENO to collude with.
Graeme Kay, editor of Opera Now, said: "Her appointment was a trendy appointment, a rather facile appeal to the youth culture. This was not her fault, but it did mean she had to learn how to be a music director of a national company on the job ... The policy decision not to have a director of productions was wrong, and her position simply became untenable."
Norman Lebrecht, author of The Maestro Men, about the world's conductors, added: "She is a good conductor, but she only had one real success there and a number of disasters. She was the right person in the wrong place at the wrong time. She needed experienced partners because this was her first job in opera. But she didn't have them".
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