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Royal Opera House   Arts Council of England   In his new book, serialised over three days in ‘The Telegraph’, Norman Lebrecht lifts the lid on the Royal Opera House’s turbulent history. Here, using unprecedented access to key players and private documents, he reveals what happened after Jeremy Isaacs let television cameras into the House The humiliation that forced Genista to resign Backstage, the death of a genius Three costly tenors At the end of 1995, the Royal Opera House stood at a crossroads. The flagship of Britain’s performing arts needed to close for reconstruction but had nowhere to go…

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WITH a week to go before the series goes on air, nothing has been fixed and no participants booked – which is just as I intended. Lebrecht.live, the new freespace on BBC Radio 3 for contentious issues in the arts, is designed to cut against the grain of all the over-scripted, pre-recorded, corporately manacled and politically neutered talk slots that clutter the public-service airwaves. Live, in my view, ought to mean live. In cultural radio, it is more often euphemistic, a cover for institutional cowardice. So-called “live” concert commentary, for instance, is typed up hours ahead for approval by presentation…

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The treatment of female conductors is unfair, counterproductive and must stop There was a woman conducting at English National Opera last June. Nothing unusual about that. There are now 64 orchestras in the United States with female music directors. The Berlin Philharmonic, which 17 years ago vehemently resisted Herbert von Karajan’s attempt to introduce a female clarinettist, has quietly accepted Graziella Contratto as assistant conductor. Both of London’s opera houses engaged women as music directors during the past decade and Simone Young has lately taken charge of Opera Australia. On paper, it all looks admirably equitable. Prejudice is a thing…

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WHEN Franz Welser-Möst last flew out of London in 1996, he was in no hurry ever to return. Installed as music director of the London Philharmonic at the tender age of 29, he found himself on a bucking horse that unseated three managing directors in his six years. Welser-Möst made matters no easier by riding bareback. He opened the LPO’s South Bank residency with a seven-work concert, more than it could afford to rehearse. He got rid of a popular chorus director and publicly sacked a front-desk violinist for not trying hard enough. Raised in Upper Austria, where a maestro’s…

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BRITAIN never used to be much of a country for pianists. There was Dame Myra Hess, who played us through the war, and Solomon, who played us out of it until his arm was paralysed by a stroke. Then John Ogdon won the 1962 Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, sharing top prize with Vladimir Ashkenazy, and a sea change overcame the self-perception of British pianists. Suddenly, it seemed that our diffident artists were ready to join the mainland of piano playing, where big cats of the keyboard prowl the Liszt études and lazily survey the broader fingerspans of late Busoni. Ogdon…

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Salzburg teaches the French a lesson Berlioz’s Les Troyens in Salzburg by Norman Lebrecht / August 3, 2000 BEFORE we all head off for Britain’s favourite holiday destination, let us briefly plumb the hidden depths of French insularity. The nimbus of musical obtuseness now hangs heaviest around Paris. The Salzburg Festival opened last week with its first-ever staging of Les Troyens, the late masterpiece that Hector Berlioz neither saw nor heard and which, for nearly a century after his death, was held to be unperformable. Based on Virgil’s Aeneid and deploying the armies of Athens, Troy and Carthage, the epic…

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On Wagner by Norman Lebrecht / July 26, 2000 An orchestral veteran was telling me in the Garrick the other day how Sir Thomas Beecham sent him to Bayreuth in 1934 to buy some heavy-metal instruments for a Ring at Covent Garden. The young visitor was adopted by Bayreuth’s principal hornist, who was so taken with his ‘kleiner Englander’ that, between acts, he rushed over to Winifred Wagner, the English-born festival director, and formally introduced him. Frau Wagner, in return, presented her companion for the evening – and that’s how my friend John became one the few English musicians to…

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Poison in the Garden – The declining importance of the arts in the political agenda. by Norman Lebrecht / July 19, 2000 AS you sit down to read this, I shall be sitting with one of our more rapacious media moguls discussing the ever-widening gap between illusion and cultural reality. We have a government that tells us that it is pumping unprecedented amounts into the arts, yet around the country the arts are in greater distress than ever. Welsh National Opera has announced that it is cancelling its annual visit to Plymouth and halving its fortnight in Liverpool because constraints…

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Long live the Russian revolution Amid scenes of wonderment the visit of the Kirov climaxed this week with an awe-inspiring War and Peace. For the third time this century Russian visitors have opened our eyes and set new standards in opera and ballet. by Norman Lebrecht / July 12, 2000 WITH the outbreak of War and Peace at Covent Garden, the last slab in the monumental Kirov season has been put in place, and it becomes possible to assess the project in its historic perspective – for historic is the only word. Three times in the 20th century the Russians…

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Bucks Stop Here – The Biggest Need Not Be the Best by Norman Lebrecht / July 5, 2000 THE international concert circuit revolves around the assumption that there are three crack orchestras in Europe – in Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam – and five in America, where the mighty handful are commonly known as the Big Five. The assumption is not founded on current form or conductor. In Europe, the pecking order was established long ago by the record industry which, dying, is now sowing confusion. In America, money speaks. The Big Five were supposedly the richest outfits, namely: Boston, Chicago,…

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