Technical Glitches May Force ROH ClosureDate: 24 January 2000
The Royal Opera House should be forced to close again to iron out the technical difficulties that continue to beset it, trade union officials announced yesterday. The ROH, which only reopened last month after a two-year, £214m refurbishment, has had to cancel or halt 12 performances in the seven weeks since the 2 December gala opening ceremony attended by the Queen and the prime minister.
The refurbishment was meant to make the ROH the most technically advanced opera and dance venue in the world, featuring state-of-the-art, computerised scene-shifting equipment which would allow for continuous, optimised use of the house's main stage. However, recent problems have been blamed on these enhancements. The software, which is meant to glide the scenery seamlessly on and off the stage, keeps failing, requiring backstage staff to shift complex and heavy sets by hand at short notice.
Such technical glitches heralded the complete cancellation of the first opera production, Le Grand Macabre, while a subsequent production of Gawain was abandoned after 20 minutes. And last Thursday, the audience booed when the final part of a ballet performance, already running late, was also cancelled.
A spokesman for Bectu, the technicians' trade union, claims that ROH management rushed too quickly to meet the December deadline for reopening and cut corners in the process. He insists that the only solution is to close the house down until the problems can be corrected and staff properly trained on the use of the new equipment.
ROH executive director Michael Kaiser, however, says that there is no possibility of the house shutting down. He maintains that the casts and crew will continue to work through the problems, aiming for minimum disruption.
The recent technical blunders are only the latest in a long line of misfortunes which has befallen the ROH. During the two years that the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet were itinerant while their Covent Garden home was under re-construction, the ROH faced bankruptcy, a Parliamentary investigation, a complete change of management, mass redundancies and the cancellation of an entire season in an effort to save money.
The ROH has been ordered by the government to reduce seat prices further this autumn in order to lose its elitist image. This will add to the financial pressure heightened by overspending and lost revenues. Last week, culture secretary Chris Smith revealed that the ROH had already lost £243,115 in ticket sales as a result of cancellations.