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Royal Opera House Manchester takes a step closer to reality

9 December 2009, London, UK

The Lowry, which opened at Manchester's Salford Quays in 2000
The Lowry, which opened at Manchester's Salford Quays in 2000

Plans to create a second base for the Royal Opera House in the northern English city of Manchester have moved a step closer to reality following endorsements from a number of key agencies, including Manchester’s flagship arts complex, The Lowry.

A mutual understanding has been reached that will safeguard The Lowry’s role as the regional centre for lyric theatre, while The Palace Theatre – the proposed home of Royal Opera House Manchester (ROHM) – will primarily become a producing theatre.

Earlier this year, Arts Council England published a report about ROHM, which suggested that the project would result in an additional £5m being needed for other Manchester-based organisations “damaged by the change in the regional arts ecology”. The Lowry, which projected an annual loss of £1.5m in its own revenue, had responded with open opposition to ROHM.

But in a surprising and abrupt change of heart, the Chairman of The Lowry Trustees, Roy Aldridge, said yesterday: “We welcome this agreement, which builds on the existing world class arts provision in the region. The agreement recognises the importance of establishing a clear artistic identity for both the Royal Opera House Manchester and The Lowry."

In July, the self same chairman had described plans for ROHM as “bad for the city, bad for the arts and bad for the taxpayer”.

One implication of the new understanding is that The Lowry will cease to present opera performances once ROHM has become a reality. Instead, ROHM will present performances by The Royal Opera, create productions in partnership with other Manchester-based organisations such as The Hallé, BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata, and produce premieres by Opera North.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has backed the scheme, saying that it "has the potential to be something really special", but nobody yet seems sure where the necessary funding will come from. (An estimated £80-£100m is required for refurbishment of The Palace Theatre, and a further £12-£15m per year for running costs.)

A spokesperson for the Royal Opera House has told Opera Now that “at the moment we are really only working on the broad concepts rather than detailed planning. If the funding is found for this project it will probably not be built until at least half way through the next decade.”

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