Northern Opera House dream moves closer to reality

Culture secretary pledges his support

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Opera-lovers in the north west of England have tentative cause to celebrate after the culture secretary, Ben Bradshaw, formally confirmed his support for the ‘northern Royal Opera House’ project yesterday.

The scheme to open a ‘branch’ of the Royal Opera House in Manchester has been in the pipeline for two years. Significant problems have been raised during that time – notably the effect the new centre would have on existing northern arts institutions including The Lowry arts complex and Opera North. Earlier this year Rod Aldridge, the chairman of trustees at the Lowry, a Salford-based centre, called for the new Opera House plans to be scrapped, calling them ‘bad for the city, bad for the arts and bad for the taxpayer.’

But this issue seems to have been resolved. An adjusted proposal would see the Lowry become the northern home of the Royal Ballet and other dance companies but, so as not to compete with the new Opera House, the venue would no longer put on opera.

With the culture secretary now firmly behind the project, the only remaining obstacle is money. According to a report published earlier this year, the cost of refurbishing the Opera House’s new home – the Palace Theatre in central Manchester – is £80m-£100m. The cost of funding the project will be £12m-£15m a year, in addition to Covent Garden’s current grant of £28m a year.

The chief executive of the Royal Opera House, Tony Hall, says in The Guardian: ‘No one is talking about public spending until after the next election.’