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Does the north need the Royal Opera House?

Razia Iqbal | 17:08 UK time, Thursday, 12 March 2009


The Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, says it could be the most significant development in British arts for a generation. The idea of establishing a Royal Opera House in Manchester, a joint project from Covent Garden and Manchester City Council, has been talked about for some time.

A report into the scheme was commissioned from the leading arts consultant Graham Marchant by Arts Council England, and is published today on their website. Marchant says the idea is a genuinely altruistic attempt to make the benefits of the ROH's artistic work (opera and ballet) available to a wider geographical constituency. The base for this would be the Palace Theatre; the capital costs of refurbishing it and making it a producing house for the ROH and others will be in the region of £100m. And that is just for starters.

The report now provides a basis for debate about access to the arts, and also how to make our national cultural institutions, many based in London, truly national. It won't be a reality for sometime to come but this is a start. What do you think? Does Manchester need an opera house? Will it, as the Culture Secretary says, have a transformative effect on the cultural life of the north of England, be a driver of economic growth, and cement Manchester's status as a world city?


  • Comment number 1.

    Erm... Manchester already has an opera house. It's called the Manchester Opera House. Although I will concede that they don't appear to stage operas there anymore (if their listings guide is anything to do by!).

    How do Opera North feel about all of this?

  • Comment number 2.

    Manchester is not short of Theatres and I'm afraid that a Northern Royal Opera House may adversely affect attendances and the popularity of these other venues.

    Saying that, the cost of tickets will probably be prohibative for many so attendance will probably be only for the selected "few".

    With regards to refurbishing the Palace Theatre at a cost of £100m, for that money you could have a purpose built venue - and create a lot more jobs in the process.

    Palace Theatre is a nightmare to park by as well as its right in the middle of the city.

  • Comment number 3.

    The Government has a disastrous record for delivering arts projects. They usually end up being just vehicles for diverting hundreds of millions into the already-heavily-moneyed sector. I doubt this one would be any different!

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm all in favour of investing in Manchester's theatres but in the hundreds of millions and at not at the expense of the Lowry or other local theatres or other Northern arts organisations - Opera North and the Birmingham Royal Ballet being prime examples.

    Manchester City Council and Salford City Counil need to take a more global view - the Lowry, for example, is far more suited to staging large-scale opera and ballet than the Palace - as much from an audience perspective as a technical one.

    If there's money to invest let's make sure the Library Theatre get a proper new home if it really has to move and let's invest some serious money in the Dancehouse Theatre, which is chronically under-developed, under-used and under-marketed.

    How about a brand new venue on the Oxford Road BBC site and incorporate the Northern Ballet School (and the Dancehouse) into the development?

  • Comment number 5.

    I've got an idea - lets scrap funding for Ballet and Opera and let it stands on its own two feet (pardon the pun). The money saved could be spent on providing genuinely popular and accessible entertainment for the public right across the country, and provide a refreshing alternative to the PC driven Arts council agenda.

  • Comment number 6.

    If the Library theatre is going to temporarily move to the Lowry, could there be signs of the necessary co-operation across the Irwell?

  • Comment number 7.

    I was delighted with the magnificent new Opera House in Oslo. Couldn't we build a modern flagship venue in Manchester?

    We certainly should welcome anything that will bring more accessible world-class opera and ballet to the north.

  • Comment number 8.

    No, I believe only those in the South East are deserving of culture and it should be concentrated there and those who are designated as from the "provinces" should be forced to cough up for an overnight stay in the worlds most expensive city in order to enjoy any form of culture.

    /end sarcasm/

  • Comment number 9.

    If it can fund itself, fine, all well and good. But why do I have to pay money into this weird elitist song and dance with tax better spent on something that costs one hundredth of the cost of this white elephant? Will it ever pay for itself? We have a global economic crash right now. Let the weirdos go to see this stuff at the present venue and please stop government funding of that venue too.
    Let it sink or swim according to the fans and not the real ticket payers who happen to be all of us tax payers mugged off by token gestures of a government to a retarded arts movement.

    While these mega yuppie deals take place the music license cant be afforded by small venues called pubs. The whole thing smacks of the property development racket, vote buying, and nothing to with the real artists.

  • Comment number 10.

    Back in the 1970s the debate went on for years about an opera house for Edinburgh. The site is now a car park. It hasn't done the cultural life of the city one iota of harm not having an opera house. We still have opera; we still have ballet. What we don't have anymore is an official festival that holds its own with the other great high arts festivals; the big stars pretty much stay away and the lack of a major opera house probably has a bearing on that. It's a shame but there is probably something inherently wicked about taxing the poor and the stupid with the lottery and then using the dosh to subsidise the entertainment of the elite. Manchester folk can make their own decision. But one way or the other the result will not define their city and its cultural life.

  • Comment number 11.

    My problem is not that they are wanting to put an opera house here, my problem is that they are using the Manchester Palace Theatre.
    This theatre is the most succesful touring house in the UK with many UK touring premieres starting here ~(Wedding Singer, Producers, Mamma Mia, and now We Will Rock You).
    This new deal will mean that for 6 months of the year the normal entertainment that the Palace has always been known for will be replaced with Opera and Ballet.
    When the Palace does have Opera and Ballet shows there now they never sell that well, the venue is always half empty, unlike when it has the big shows in like the recent Mary Poppins which was packed for 3 months.
    Th Palace should be left alone, the 2000 capacity venue does very well to serve the needs of the manchester based theatre going public. People like Cameron Macintosh always chose to bring their touring shows through the Place and normally kick them of there.
    Our sister theatre the Opera House never does as well as the Palace and never get the size of shows that the Palace has, why not take residency at the Opera House?
    As for it creating new jobs, well if the Opera season/Ballet season does as well as they normally do there then i cant see anyone benefiting from a job, yet i can see staff loosing jobs. If the audience are not coming then there wont be the work.
    The Palace has always been a commercial touring venue of the highest degree and should remain that way.
    Oh and to the person who said the parking is terrible, well you obviously missed the huge NCP car park right next door.

    Leave the Palace alone

  • Comment number 12.

    the suggestion that we NEED the royal opera house comes from the sort of londoncentric thinking that only serves to damage the rest of the country. contrary to popular southern belief, london isn't the only civilised city in the UK, and we don't need them to come up here to try and make us cultured. we already have the opera north and the northern ballet theatre, so we're doing quite nicely thankyou very much. if royal opera and royal ballet fancy touring and doing a few shows up here, great - we'd be foolish to turn down the opportunity to see world-class theatre - but we don't NEED them.

  • Comment number 13.

    #9 - it's not only weirdos who like opera and ballet, you know. and theatre can pay for itself - some reports suggest that theatre is one industry that's defying the economic crisis and turning over a profit. i myself have been to several packed out shows recently - including one ballet (well, modern ballet if we're nitpicking) - and many businesses can only dream of the sort of profit wicked is making.


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