November 22, 2012 10:58 pm

Opera mission seen as big success

Lord Hall, the BBC’s new director-general, has been a key figure in promoting the arts during a decade which has seen British culture prosper

He was brought in as chief executive of the Royal Opera House in 2001, when the house was having trouble balancing its books and over-reliant on public subsidy. He made it his mission to reduce that reliance by raising more money from the private sector, while at the same time refreshing the house’s conservative audience by attracting more young people.

His success in performing that balancing act has been the presiding symbol of a British cultural scene that has become livelier and more accessible than many international rivals in the past 10 years.

The value of individual donations to the house has increased from £6.7m in 2001 to more than £20m, while the proportion of its income from Arts Council England has fallen from 40 to 25 per cent. Meanwhile initiatives such as the annual “Deloitte Ignite” mini-festivals, featuring collaborations with contemporary artists, have proved successful in changing the house’s audience profile.

Simon Robey, chairman of the board of trustees at the ROH, said he could think of “nobody better able to bring stability back to the BBC”, adding: “The ROH he will leave in March is very different to the one he took over in 2001. Our artistic standards and reputation have never been higher and are unsurpassed around the world.”

Lord Hall has led the ROH’s drive to digitalise its content, by showing its work in cinemas all over Britain and the rest of the world. The house also bought Opus Arte, the leading classical music and dance DVD company, for £5.7m in 2007, becoming the first opera house to acquire its own DVD production and distribution company.

In 2009, Lord Hall was appointed chairman of the Cultural Olympiad, which had been criticised for failing to capture the public imagination. Ruth Mackenzie, festival director, said his impact was instant. She said he was “passionate about public service and creativity within public broadcasting. This is brilliant news for the BBC”.

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