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Music Pages

Can the Royal Opera’s top salaries be justified?

8 November 2010, London, UK

Antonio Pappano
Antonio Pappano(Photo: Laurie Lewis)

Opera Now correspondent, Michael White, asks whether London’s Royal Opera House is justified in paying huge annual salaries to music director, Antonio Pappano, and chief executive, Tony Hall.

No one likes to have his pay-packet discussed in public. So it must have been embarrassing for Covent Garden's chief executive Tony Hall and music director Tony Pappano when they found themselves sucked into a very public (and  aggressive) debate about the acceptability of high salaries in a cash-strapped arts world.

It started with politician Don Foster digging through the Royal Opera House accounts and revealing (to anyone who hadn't done the digging for himself) that Hall earns the tidy sum of £390,000 a year while Pappano makes an even tidier £630,000. And the question then became, how could they justify these amounts?

The standard answer to such a question is market forces. But then you have to agree which market. For Pappano, as an internationally active figure, global standards apply; and you can safely say that whatever he earns at the Garden, he could earn more elsewhere. For Hall, the indicators are more local. And since the director of the Tate earns £180K and the director of the National Theatre £165K, he does seem to be doing well. If he was working in commerce it would be different. But he's not. He's in the subsidised arts.

There is, though, another factor: judgement by results. Have Hall and Pappano given the value to merit their salaries? In Pappano's case there's no denying his achievement at the House over the past eight years. Musical standards are high. Things work. With Hall it's more equivocal. There's been a lot of technological initiative to transmit productions beyond the walls of the ROH, but not much to make the performances themselves more accessible. And whatever his competence as an administrator, he won't go down in history as a dynamic one.

In the current climate of swingeing budgetary reductions – accompanied by much bad feeling – it would probably be politic if both Hall and Pappano did the decent thing and took voluntary pay cuts. Better this than risk looking like cats fattened on public subsidy.


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