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New Season Begins With Money Worries

September 11, 1990

LONDON (AP) _ The Royal Opera has opened its new season with a revival of its celebrated production of ″Turandot″ and unanswered questions about the company’s financial future.

The opera house in Covent Garden is spending its way toward a $9.45 million deficit. Seat prices are the highest in its history and extra money from sponsors and the government is looking harder than ever to come by.

There was 10 minutes’ applause for the cast headed by Dame Gwyneth Jones, the Welsh soprano and a Covent Garden favorite Monday night in her 49th performance of the title role, and Russian tenor Vladimir Popov, now a U.S. citizen, as Prince Calaf.

They were joined by conductor Sir Colin Davis, who was presented with the Royal Opera House silver medal to mark his 25th anniversary with Covent Garden.

″Few have done more for opera, for this country and this house,″ said general director Jeremy Isaacs from the stage.

The company premiered this production of Giacomo Puccini’s last opera in Los Angeles in 1984 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and claims that it revived interest in opera in that city.

The revival was dedicated to Dame Eva Turner, the British dramatic soprano, who died on June 16 at age 98. Turandot was her finest role between 1928 and 1947. For 10 years after her retirement she was a professor of voice at the University of Oklahoma.

The Royal Opera is staging nine new productions this season, starting with ″Siegfried″ on Oct. 4, as well as revivals. The house is open six days a week with opera and ballet and claims to be the busiest in Europe.

The best stalls seats on Monday were $168. Best grand tier seats were $190. The cheapest seats, which have a restricted view, range from $8.50 to $38.

Rodney Milnes, editor of Opera magazine, other critics note that although it’s the well-heeled who are mostly seen at Covent Garden, the opera house is the recipient of the largest slug of public money for the performing arts in Britain - $28.3 million this year.

Taxpayers, especially those outside southeast England which contributes 84 percent of the opera house audiences, ″are hardly getting a good return for the money taken from them,″ Milnes complained in London’s Evening Standard.

″We are pleased to get the show on the road again,″ said Ewen Balfour, director of public relations at the opera house, after Monday’s opening.

″We are as concerned about the high prices as everyone else - some seats are double those at the Bastille (the new opera house in Paris). But our income still isn’t enough,″ he said.

He said salaries account for 60 percent of the budget and increased by 8 to 9 percent last year, when the opera house’s increase from the government was 1.7 percent.

″Our turnover last season was 39 million pounds ($73.7 million). Attendances averaged 92 percent for opera and 91 percent for ballet and yet we face a deficit. We are now waiting to see what the government will give us in November,″ Balfour said.

He said the venerable opera house, opened in 1858, is busier than ever and has had to take on extra staff to operate an all-night stage crew.

″It’s a chicken and egg situation: if you want to do exciting things you have to charge high prices; if you charge high prices you have to give the public something very good. It’s distressing for us that the middle income group, especially school teachers, can no longer afford to come and that they aren’t introducing people to the delights of coming here,″ he said.

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