Leader – It’s not over until the fat consultant sings

La Boheme, Act III. The curtain rises. A dilapidated Parisian garret. Mimi, a frail, consumption-choked waif shivers in a corner and declares undying love to the poet Rodolpho. A few bars of music later, her eyelids flutter and she gracefully expires. Rodolpho weeps, the orchestra swells and there isn’t a dry eye in the house. Thunderous applause.

You might pity little Mimi, but as London’s Evening Standard would have it, you should also pity the poor consumptive Royal Opera House, the hapless management of which have fallen prey to the evil management consultants.

On Wednesday 13 May, the paper devoted an entire page to a #50,000 bill presented to Royal Opera House by Coopers & Lybrand for two weeks’ advice.

The paper’s opera critic Tom Sutcliffe was outraged at such expenditure at a time when the Royal Opera House was laying off a number of its workforce.

The ROH’s future is currently under review. Sutcliffe writes: “… it seems pointless to have management consultants examining the structure and functioning of the Royal Opera House at a time when its circumstances are as abnormal as at present.” The Evening Standard has surely missed the point. This is precisely the right time for consultants to audit and advise a company that is, quite frankly, the arts world’s dying swan.

The fumbling ROH management was cruelly exposed last year in the BBC documentary The House. Even the most difficult of divas would have found it hard to stomach the amount of preening managerial vanity on display.

The ROH has never recovered from the blow. Sutcliffe’s indignation rings hollow. He decries the one-off payment to a firm called in to secure a stable managerial structure and yet fails to be equally indignant at the astronomical fees paid to stars which inflate ticket prices hugely, exposing the ROH to the charge of being elitist. Yet amidst this travesty, Coopers & Lybrand has fuelled the fury by remaining silent about the whole affair. Surely now is the time for Coopers to promote the value of the work it does. But no – yet again, the whole affair is cloaked in silence and the organisation comes across as a rather faceless cabal.

Staff at the ROH have been laid off – that is a tragedy. But if the management situation is not resolved there will be more redundancies and that will simply be malicious neglect. The ROH is rightly seeking expert advice.

Coopers should be proud to sing it from the rooftops.

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