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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

The Kaiser's legacy

By Norman Lebrecht / September 17, 2008

Michael Kaiser refers to me as 'pleasant' in his new book, The Art of the Turnaround (Brandeis University) - as distinct from the rest of the British press whom he sees as a pack of howling banshees determined to tear down the Royal Opera House brick by brick. This a double misperception on the part of a shrewd and capable New Yorker who took charge in 1998 when Covent Garden had lost two chief executives in quick succession and was hated by Tont Blair.

Kaiser, in two years, did much to raise internal morale, repair the finances and renew public confidence. He notes that I credited him for those uplifts but he seems to have forgotten the tense breakfast we had the morning after his arrival when I warned that he would face tougher media scrutiny than he had encountered from the tame New York Times and that, if he made a mistake, his board would hang him out friendless to dry. Sure enough, Kaiser describes going home at night in tears, much as his predecessors did. It got to the the point where the pressures were so great he was too scared to sit and watch a performance. That’s when he decided to go home. 'To this day,' he writes, 'I cannot sit happily in a theatre ... I am convinced something is going to go wrong.'

He lists ten rules on how to save a failing arts house and has applied them discreetly at Washington’s Kennedy Center. In London, he triumphantly introduced Antonio Pappano as music director of the opera and disastrously installed Ross Stretton at the ballet. His structural reforms, though, were decisive. Tony Hall, his successor, inherited an institution that had stopped playing disaster scenarios and was ready to reach a wider public - to reach out for the Sun, as it did last week.

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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