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Royal Opera House: Finding a way forward will be a ‘massive stretch’

The famous institution is losing £3 of every £5 of its revenue while its doors are closed.

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The Royal Opera House in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Royal Opera House in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Royal Opera House in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Royal Opera House is facing a “huge challenge” which will take “every ounce of our ingenuity” to get through, its boss has said.

The institution, which has a 288-year history, is losing £3 of every £5 of its revenue while its doors are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive Alex Beard told the PA news agency: “Without doubt this is one of the most challenging times in the Opera House’s history.

“The Opera House has been through a few things in the last 300 years – two fires, riots, two World Wars.

“This is hugely challenging.

“We’re set up to perform, to bring audiences together and shine a light on some of the greatest works of art ever made and we can’t do that.”

The Royal Opera House – which received a royal charter in 1968 – completed a three-year renovation project in 2018, “opening up” many areas to the public.

Mr Beard said he was confident that visitors will be able to return to Covent Garden, home to Britain’s oldest national opera and ballet companies, if not in the same way.

“It might be some time before we can have 2,000 people in the auditorium who are enjoying 100 people in the pit and 150 people on stage,” he said.

“That might be some time off but we’ll be opening the doors a long time before that.”

Its current Arts Council England funding – of £24 million a year with a 3% reduction in the last spending round – ends in 2022.

Mr Beard said: “I’m confident that we will find a way through this but it’s a massive stretch.

The Opera House has been through a few things in the last 300 years - two fires, riots, two World Wars. This is hugely challengingAlex Beard, Royal Opera House chief executive

“It will require every ounce of our ingenuity, the generosity and continuing support of philanthropists but also the help and support from the Government.”

The “big themes” in the performing arts “focus on the great levellers and the great uniters – love, death, despair, hope and resolution – and obviously they resonate now,” he said.

“So many of the storylines are about personal struggles and towards redemption, sometimes with a desperately sad ending and sometimes with a happy ending.

“They’re universal and that’s what’s so important about art in all forms.”

The famous institution has been putting on productions – from Peter And The Wolf and Acis And Galatea to Cosi Fan Tutte and The Metamorphosis – for free via its Facebook and YouTube channels.

Other recent offerings included a performance of Happy Birthday by its singers and musicians to Captain Tom Moore.

Mr Beard said that the demand showed there is an appetite for the work.

He said of future productions: “We are not ruling anything out. Everyone who has got performance in their blood will use every ounce of ingenuity to come up with ways of making it work.

“Performers will find a way of expressing themselves but what’s clear is it’s not going to be the full force of the company performing to a packed house for some time.

“There are lots of things that will be possible but it’s obviously not the same as the full experience and nor will it generate anything like the same revenue.”

Mr Beard, who has ruled out a rise in ticket prices to help the Opera House survive, added: “Without the job retention scheme we wouldn’t have made it this far but… we’ve got pretty limited reserves. They (alone) won’t see us through this episode.”

PA Media