*ROH Faces Closure & Redundancies in 1999Date: 10 September 1998
It's been a long time in coming, but chairman Sir Colin Southgate has now announced his plans to save the beleaguered Royal Opera House. As part of the radical programme to stave off bankruptcy, the Royal Opera will close for eleven full months from January 1999 and many staff will be made redundant.
The news was delivered to staff yesterday, 9 September, at an emergency meeting held following negotiations this week between the ROH board and Government ministers. Southgate has secured continued subsidy of £2 million per month during the company's closure as well as an increase in funding - reportedly between £5 million to £10 million a year - once the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet move back into their £214m newly refurbished Covent Garden home in December 1999.
The money is contingent on the ROH continuing to cut costs, reduce ticket prices and make the opera more accessible to more people. Negotiations now begin between ROH management and workers' unions who have been given until the end of October to accept new flexible contracts which would entail less money and payment only on performance. If these are not agreed, Southgate has threatened redundancy for all and indefinite closure of the ROH. In any case, many redundancies will be necessary, the first casualties being the 38-strong chorus who will be out of jobs come January.
Even once re-opened - and for up to five years afterwards - ROH activities will be severely limited. The number of performances will be cut by a third to 100 opera and 120 ballet performances. Southgate has also said that the house will not be able to afford any productions in the 400-seat studio theatre being added to the new Covent Garden facility.
The Royal Ballet will continue to tour during 1999 but its number of performances will be cut by more than half to 49 shows.
Other details of the rescue plan include merging of various in-house departments, management reviews, a sell-off of shops in the new Covent Garden development and a splitting of the role of general director.
Southgate expressed regret at the necessity of such drastic measures but warned that, without them, cash would run out by the end of the year and the ROH's current £10 million deficit would rise to £25 million by early 2000.