News broke this weekend that Bernard Haitink KBE, music director of the Royal Opera has tendered his resignation to Sir Colin Southgate, Chairman of the Board. Haitink states that this is due to the knee-jerk reaction of cancelling the entire 1999 Royal Opera Season.

When is this Government going to wake up to the Royal Opera crisis? Culture Secretary Chris Smith has a lot to answer for. The resignation of the Board, the departure of chief executive Mary Allen (and before her, Genista McIntosh) pale into insignificance compared to this latest body blow to the Royal Opera.

Haitink is the jewel in the ROH crown. He, his orchestra and cast received standing ovations after the recent Ring Cycles in London (at the Royal Albert Hall) and Birmingham. Unfortunately, I missed these performances, but I have had the privilege of attending Haitian s first Ring Cycles (1990) and his last (1996) at Covent Garden; he is without peer in this repertoire. The final performance of Wagner s Mesitersinger von Nurnberg before the closure of the old house left an indelible mark on my memory. The sounds will live with me for ever. Yet, Chris Smith, he is off! Does nobody care anymore?

The Arts suffered under MargaretThatcher, and it is a hideous irony that the premier Arts organisation in England is, for all intents and purposes, demolished now by a Labour Government. Colin Southgate was present at neither the Royal Opera s Don Carlos in Edinburgh or The Ring. Despite his position at the head of the ROH s management, his lack of interest in the output of this company is apparent. What the heck is going on?

London s musical life is in jeopardy if Haitink goes. Yes, his leaving is that momentous, but who cares? The Royal Opera s last season before re-development, despite the back-stabbing and politics going on behind the scene, was artistically flawless. But when the house re-opens it will have no orchestra, no chorus and, if Haitink goes through with it, no Music Director. It beggars belief!

Haitink appealed for the audience at last week s Gotterdammerung to write to Chris Smith in order to appeal for help. Will they? Will it achieve anything? If you believe in the seriousness of opera, I implore you to write to the Culture Secretary and ask him to stop this folly.

London as a cultural backwater? I don t think so.

Keith McDonnell, What s On Stage opera reviewer