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Royal Opera House to gain presence in Manchester

Jonathan Schofield on some great news....but could we go a bit mass market next time?

Written by . Published on October 27th 2008.

Royal Opera House to gain presence in Manchester

Confidential’s been hearing rumours for weeks about the Royal Opera House creating a base in Manchester.

Over the weekend we received this email, embargoed until 6am this fine morning.

It reads:

‘Manchester City Council together with the Royal Opera House today confirmed they are in the early stages of discussions about having a base in Manchester at the Palace Theatre on Oxford Street in the city centre.

‘Agreement in principle has been reached with Live Nation, owners of the Palace Theatre, to develop a presence at the theatre for both Tthe Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet.

‘Sir Howard Bernstein, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council said: “While there is a still a lot of work to do, we think we have a compelling proposition. If successful, this will be fantastic for Manchester and further enhance our strong cultural offer. Establishing a new production, training and performance base here for the Royal Opera House would deliver significant economic benefit to the city by attracting more visitors and creating new jobs for local people.”’

This is good news. Very exciting in that it reinforces Manchester’s position as the second city in England for culture.

It is not quite as Rob Beale writes in the MEN today, ‘the biggest boost to the city’s cultural life in generations’.

The formation of the Royal Exchange, the rescue of the Opera House and the Palace Theatre, the building of the Lowry and the Bridgewater Hall and the instant hit that was Manchester International Festival in 2007, are all arguably bigger than this. There are other claimants to the title too.

And all of them feel more Manchester. This smells a little of offering tidbits to the provinces when maybe it would be better to fund and deliver a world class opera company based in the city. After all we already have regular visits from Leeds-based Opera North (does this hint that they aren’t good enough and we need more Metropolitan magic?).

More to the point, there is a world of difference between making Manchester Head Office, and occasionally allowing us a view of what London regularly gets. This is why the BBC moving key departments up to The Quays, lock, stock and barrel, is so exciting.

Nor do we know, yet, how frequently the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet will perform here. Nor what their programmes may consist of and when any arrangement might start. Let’s hope we get their top end stuff at least.

On a side issue, as part of the rumour mill preceding this announcement the word was that we would be getting a brand new state of the art Opera House where the Supercasino was due to be sited: Manchester’s own Sydney Opera House.

The idea was that this would be compensation in some way for Gordon Brown’s arbitrary and illogical demolition of the Supercasino plan when he was still allowing sixteen regional casinos to go ahead. Turns out that that was just rumour. That the two are in no way connected. So if nothing else we miss out on the notion of an entertaining trio of City of Manchester Stadium, Opera House and Asda-Wallmart.

Yet the comparison between the Supercasino and the Royal Opera House working in Manchester is still instructive. The Supercasino (presumably well-regulated, well-policed with a whole range of ancillary live entertainment, music hall, vaudeville, whatever) would have provided something that always seems missing in recent cultural additions.

It would have had mass appeal, something with a broad audience which cuts across class and education.

After all, Manchester is the city of disappeared Belle Vue, the city famous for its popular music, the city which would host more than 115,000 fans every other week if both football teams played on the same day – a third more than Liverpool the nearest regional rival in England.

So next time, rather than museums, galleries and theatres (we have enough), let’s maybe have a theme park, a fun fair, even a big city centre playground.

Let’s make one of our parks so good it drags people in from fifty miles away – what about some of the old-style Belle Vue attractions amidst the wide acres of Heaton Park?

Funny isn't it, how theme parks and their millions of visitors have to be privately financed – as the Supercasino would have been? Whereas the money behind the Royal Opera House presence in Manchester will no doubt come from the tax payer.

All of which may sound churlish.

Because, of course at Confidential we are very pleased that the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet want to show us a bit of what they’ve got. That goes without saying. These are high-calibre performers. No argument in that. Yes, this will be good for Manchester.

Just sometimes it might be nice to have a bit of balance is all.

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23 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

mOctober 27th 2008.

I wouldn't want a theme park of the roller coaster ilk in the city. Its a bit naff and space constraints mean it will never really be any good. Belle Vue was decades ago and the thrill seekers are more hardend. A revolving barrel won't cut it anymore. A zoo on the other hand would be good but there's a better one than we could ever have in Chester. Why settle for second best? The Opera can't be bad news. I've never heard of Opera North and that's probably something about its successes. Unfortunately putting on a few shows at the Palace just means the ROH can pull it without much of a loss of things don't go well. If they built their own venue it would guarantee a real crack at making it more mainstream. The Eastlands site is a real dilema though. The casino was perfect but the only reaonsable alternative I've heard is something along the lines of the Eden project.

Professor Rob RightOctober 27th 2008.

Nice to see Manchester picking up scraps from underneath the table dropped by London. However, I doubt there is much of a market for high culture or any culture for that matter in Manchester!Glad that Birmingham proudly boasts the world acclaimed Birmingham Royal Ballet and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, promoting the name of our great city to the world!

Stephanie BeakerOctober 27th 2008.

I agree with the article. It is particularly good news but it's a shame that the rough and ready Willows in Weaste gets nothing from gvernment but the Lowry, a mile away gets millions.

PaulOctober 27th 2008.

A moaning, hard done to scouser? What a refreshing change!

burt CodeineOctober 27th 2008.

Something like the Tokyo Dome City would be great for the Eastlands site...perhaps something fruity is being discussed between the council and the Arab owners of Man City?I actually thought the rumours were more than that: 1 £100 million pound (thereabouts) investment in the current BBC site was mooted. I can't help feeling that this sounds we yet again should be grateful for the scraps thrown our way once in a while. Reminds me a little of the BBC touring with the likes of Question Time rather than (as the above article wonderfully points out) wholesale relocation.

JeffOctober 27th 2008.

I may be wrong, but I thought Jonathan is from Liverpool.

phil jonesOctober 27th 2008.

This is a well hidden subsidy for the Live Nation group. The Palace Theatre will get the upgrade and then LN will be able to charge promoters bigger hire charges and therefore the public higher ticket prices for the experience! whilst the city has always worked in partnership with venues, this is one that can only benefit the alredy fat cats from Live Nation, a US based company who have no sense of community or cooperation in the UK.

AnonymousOctober 27th 2008.


Ha very funnyOctober 27th 2008.

Jeff that was David Lloyd. He was bobbins, he closed City Life down at the behest of Mark 'ridiculous salary' Dodson and Mark 'nice suit' Rix. Schofield will love you for comparing him to Lloyd. Very funny. By the way what do people think of the new City Life website. Could do much better I reckon.

Peter RivendellOctober 27th 2008.

I must confess to being somewhat horrified at this idea. For starters, the Palace Theatre is already Manchester's busiest theatre, with a seemingly endless stream of touring shows and productions of various kinds, especially musicals.Secondly, despite a rather large and pretty auditorium, the customer experience at the Palace is hardly state of the art. Although it has a large stage, and it seems able to handle the technical demands of most modern stage productions, the seats are cramped and the bars and facilities are drab, and old-fashioned - very much like many of the theatres in London's West End.Having said that, the Palace is a grand old lady and she's weathered good times and bad and is still going strong - so why fix it if it ain't broke?The Lowry is much better equipped. I don't believe it operates at full capacity, it has two excellent theatres and a studio space, and has spacious and modern public spaces and facilities. But the Lowry doesn't pose a problem or offer a solution either.The Bridgewater Hall is, in my opinion, rather underused. But, designed as an international classical concert theatre, it simply doesn't have the kind of stage that suits either ballet or opera.So, how about a completely new iconic opera house for Manchester? Please God not somewhere like Eastlands. Spinningfields perhaps. Somewhere central that would benefit bars and restaurants and bring evening street life to the city.Or how about dragging the Dancehouse Theatre into the twenty-first century? It has a decent-sized stage, a rather pretty, if slightly plain, auditorium and appalling public areas, despite occupying a rather grand art deco building. And it seems rarely to be showing anything. It actually shows more comedy than dance.I've lived in Manchester for more than twenty-five years and have only ever visited the Dancehouse once! What lies unused in that building? It even houses a ballet school - the Northern Ballet School - how about merging that with the Royal Opera House ballet school?Their website boasts that 'the Dancehouse Theatre complex extends to some 35,000 square feet and comprises the theatre, three medium and two large dance studios, all fully equipped to meet the highest standards, changing rooms, shower facilities, a Green Room, a licensed Cafe Bar, Theatre Bar and Coffee Shop.'What an opportunity...!My other concerns focus on the need for a northern base for the Royal Opera House - other than to satisfy some government ideal of 'decentralisation'.Manchester already benefits from regular visits from the English National Ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Opera North, which is based in Leeds.The Palace and its sister theatre , the Opera House (sic) regularly feature the spectacular but rather traditional Ellen Kent productions of classic operas - Tosca, Carmen and La Boheme this November, for example.Leeds also boasts the Northern Ballet Theatre and the Phoenix Dance Theatre - which is more contemporary in style - both of which plan to share a new multi-million pound northern dance centre and theatre in Leeds called Momentum. Neither the Northern Ballet Theatre nor the Phoenix Dance Theatre visit Manchester often to my knowledgeThe wonderful New English Contemporary Ballet, who are Nottingham based, played to a sadly two-thirds empty Dancehouse this summer.Although I would love to see more ballet and, especially, contemporary dance in Manchester because I love it, and I occasionally venture to the opera, I would argue that Manchester is pretty well served by large and medium-scale touring dance companies. And I rarely sit in a sold-out theatre. Far from it. Even so, I am often dismayed when so many national and international dance companies miss Manchester from their touring schedules - many not considering it worth venturing out of the capital.All of which begs the question - never mind the venue and the cost, does Manchester need, does Manchester have the audience or the appetite for a significant Royal Opera House and ballet presence?And do we have to mess about with the Palace to achieve it?

James DeeOctober 27th 2008.

Honestly Scousers. AD I re-read the piece and apart from that impartially delivered line which is a fact, there is nothing at all anti-Scouse in the piece. It's perhaps anti-Manchester council but not against Liverpool. This type of weird chip on the shoulder makes idiots of your (I presume you are from Liverpool)fine, fine city which I love to visit. See a psychiatrist would you.

JeffOctober 27th 2008.

I must be thinking of one of the other ex-City Life editors then. My apologies. Yes, Janie, I do hail from the right end of the East Lancs Road.

ADOctober 27th 2008.

Its a shame to see some pointless scouser baiting in what othewise might be a reasonable article. the quip about being englands second city for culture made in liverpools capial of culture year and the dig about football attendances (which takes no account of the more restricted capacities at the other end of the 62) are pretty churlish for an article premised on a discussion of 'high' culture. and rather snide of you considering you extend your online newspaper to liverpool confidential.

Peter RivendellOctober 27th 2008.

Ha! What was I thinking? Actually I just copy and pasted that from my own blog and it's ended up as that monstrous post - sorry!

The Real JanieOctober 27th 2008.

I think this is brilliant news! I'm happy for anything good that raises the positive profile of Manchester - be it opera, ballet, comedy, food and drink etc. It's all good for the city and it makes us more appealing to potential visitors. Bring it on!

Cllr Mike AmesburyOctober 27th 2008.

The R.O.H Manchester will add to Manchester's cultural offer, create upto 750 jobs as well as offering training opportunities to residents. A production and performance venue of this size is needed if we are to develop our cultural economy over the coming years. This of course is only part of the picture as commentators have argued. We need to ensure that we attract major investment into the Sports city site to develop a large-scale Leisure and visitor attraction. We are determined to realise these ambitions.

OkapiOctober 27th 2008.

Does Manchester really need the ROH and is this an efficient use of taxpayers money? Your article does lead me to question the role of Opera North in all of this? Each of the UK's Opera Companies (with the exception of Glyndebourne) are funded by grants from the Arts Council. Part of the deal to ensure the even coverage of Opera for the nation (and to avoid double funding of Opera by the taxpayer) is that the Arts Council in conjunction with the Opera Companies set the touring patterns so that theyu don't cross over. In short, they each have their own patch. Manchester is Opera North territory, similarly Liverpool falls within Welsh Natioanl Opera's remit and so on. Why would Manchester, a proud Northern city want or need the intervention of a London based institution when it has it's own Opera company in Opera North operating out of the Lowry? Why would the taxpayer, having ponied up for Opera North, effectively pay again for ROH to operate part time out of Manchester? There is something funny going on here, and it isn't to do with the provision of a minority art form.

Georgey PorgeyOctober 27th 2008.

The Supercasino would have been of far more benefit than a loose association with the Royal Opera House. How ridiculous.

Jonathan SchofieldOctober 27th 2008.

Jeff, er Liverpool? Bless no. I think you mean Rochdale, the land of liberalism, lovely town hall, beautiful moors and some deep social problems.

JanieOctober 27th 2008.

Isn't Jeff a scouser? Looking forward to a good bit of tightly be-tighted man flesh though.

burt CodeineOctober 27th 2008.

forgot to add...The schpiel about this in various news slots keeps on referring to the Palace as 'Iconic' this and that - I think it is personally. But is it up for the job? The Monkey 'opera' demonstrated a few of it's limitations...and those seats are blinkin tight and uncomfortable.

Kevin PeelOctober 27th 2008.

"rather than museums, galleries and theatres (we have enough)" - No we don't! I'd much rather have a new opera house than a casino! I agree that we could do with a nice theme park or something fun like that though! Moving on, I think this announcement is great news for Manchester and I can't wait to start seeing even more quality opera and ballet here. Well done to the Council for securing this.

mark mOctober 27th 2008.

I was thinking the same anon.

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