Gowrie plans a lottery subsidy for opera

David Lister
Sunday 20 April 1997 23:02

The chairman of the Arts Council, Lord Gowrie, yesterday said that lottery money would soon go towards reducing ticket prices at venues including the Royal Opera House.

His remarks came after he controversially condemned the old Royal Opera House regime under Sir Jeremy Isaacs. He described their closure plans as a "shambles."

Lord Gowrie told The Independent that he was "obsessive" about accessibility for opera and ballet, and said that a new lottery scheme, Arts for Everyone, being operated by the Arts Council, would be available to give money earmarked for reducing seat prices.

Asked if the Royal Opera House, which has already had pounds 78m lottery money towards its rebuilding plans, could apply for yet more lottery money to reduce seat prices, Lord Gowrie replied: "Not at the moment, but in time, yes."

Lord Gowrie also revealed that he had held back a tranche of the pounds 78m because he was worried about what he termed the "chaos" of the closure plans being supervised by General Director Sir Jeremy Isaacs, and Chairman Sir Angus Stirling.

He only released the last pounds 23m when he was confident alternative arrangements had been made for housing the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet. The last tranche of money was not released until it was announced that Sir Jeremy and Sir Angus were retiring to be replaced by Genista McIntosh and Lord Chadlington respectively.

Lord Gowrie said yesterday he had confidence in the new team, but would have preferred it if their closure plans, announced earlier this month, had provided one stable base for the companies. Instead, they will visit a number of London venues.

But Lord Gowrie was scathing about the way Sir Jeremy and Sir Angus had allowed the two-year closure to draw near without a new base to house the companies. Sir Jeremy had wanted the companies to move into a new theatre at Tower Bridge, but this plan fell through.

In a letter to the Sunday Times, Lord Gowrie wrote: "The Board, under the chairmanship of Sir Angus Stirling, and with Sir Jeremy Isaacs as General Director, was given frequent warnings of the need for fall-back positions from their visionary, but highly uncertain, preferred option at Tower Bridge. They were warned by officers of the council, by those members of the council whose responsibilities directly touched upon the issue and by me personally... the closure plans were, quite frankly, a shambles."

Yesterday Lord Gowrie added: "I am very bullish now. We would certainly not have given the extra tranche of money if we weren't confident about what will now be achieved. Opera and ballet companies will be moving around and winning new audiences, but the plans are less good than they could have been. I think you get a more stable audience with a single venue.

The Royal Opera House suffered another set-back last week when a new chief executive of the Balanchine Trust in New York refused to licence the Royal Ballet to stage the Balanchine ballet Apollo without the right to have prior casting approval. The Royal Ballet have cancelled their plan to stage the piece which would have starred Darcy Bussell.

But Royal Ballet officials angrily denied a report in the Sunday Times that it was losing one of its stars, Viviana Durante. In fact, Miss Durante, who has been on a sabbatical, will be dancing lead roles in several productions next season.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments