Covent Garden’s darkest hour is now on Youtube

Covent Garden’s darkest hour is now on Youtube


norman lebrecht

May 24, 2018

Remember ‘The House’?

It was a fly-on-wall documentary series that was meant to show the Royal Opera House as being relevant, contemporary and with it.

Instead, it revealed calamity and ineptitude as the company tried to keep shows on stage while looking for a place in which to spend two years of exile during reconstruction.

Now, after years of equivocation, the series has resurfaced on Youtube.

Watch the first episode here.


  • collin says:

    Holy shit, lawsuit heaven, if this stuff were shown today on TV!

    Just a random example I fell on:

    @ 7:46 – Narrator: “The box office staff are managed by Andrew Fullen (?)…” (images of the man at work and speaking about the challenges of the box office)
    @ 8:06 – Management meeting “Hm, I think Andrew is still a problem and it’d have to be resolved in some way. I don’t think he is capable of running the box office as well as it has to be run here. Andrew has neither the seniority, nor does he have I think the intelligence to cope with the new software that is coming on…. I don’t think he’s got the intelligence to deliver it, frankly….”

    And within the first few minutes, I saw inappropriate touching, etc. (at least by today’s standards).

    Surely, when this was aired in 1996, people sued?! How could management let themselves filmed talking about staff like that?

  • AMETFAN says:

    There is a Volpe video equivalent which will never see the light of day…

  • Nick2 says:

    The most staggering fact about that disaster of a documentary series (in terms of totally failing in its objectives) is that it was commissioned by a man whose entire career had been steeped in television. Sadly for the Royal Opera he was a total disaster as it’s General Director.

    • V.Lind says:

      It was damned good TV, and perhaps his TV experience realised that and blinded him to the fact that it was not good for the ROH.

      I can’t imagine that kind of access ever being given again, as it showed all the worst traits of those at the top in the ROH structure, from Keith Cooper to the firing of Fiona Chadwick to the woman who made the case for keeping the place for the elite so the sponsors would be happy.

      Good to see it circulating again — it may give a wake-up call to some other artistic institutions to open up their worlds and their eyes.

      I never cease to be amazed at the arrogance of the ROH, charging what they do for restricted views in the “gods.” When they were undertaking that refurbishment, they should have gutted the hall and rebuilt it — smaller. Who can watch and appreciate ballet from those upper rows? I have been in lower boxes at the ROH where the angle to view was uncomfortable. The place needs to decide whether it is for presentation of the arts or for providing the elite with a classy night out. It could do both if attitudes changed a bit.

  • Lynn says:

    I enjoyed the look see very much.

  • Robert Roy says:

    I’m so glad this has re-surfaced on YouTube. I saw it first time around and was appalled by some of the ‘management’ that was going on. I’m sure the box office manager, Follen, must have had some recourse after having his name blackened for all to see.

    I’m sure there was a lot of ill will towards the ROH as a result of this series since it was about to receive a colossal sum of Lottery money for a huge refurbishment which was perceived as rich people’s pleasure being funded by money provided by ‘ordinary people’ through the Lottery. If I recall correctly, the press dug around and found projects that had been refused Lottery cash and this was played against the millions being spent at the ROH.

    Not the greatest of timing!

    I’m also sure that Gennady Rozhdestvensky was described as being a ‘sloppy worker’ after he walked out of a production. Sure comments best made privately!

    • Maria says:

      “perceived as rich people’s pleasure being funded by money provided by ‘ordinary people’”

      Business as usual then.

      Apparently, rich people don’t pay tax (they pay quite a lot in fact), and ordinary people (whoever they are), stay at home watching soap operas on TV and eating fish and chips.

      A recent comment here about Garsington Opera is sadly typical.

  • tonerow says:

    This is like early period Ali G – never again will such amazing reality TV be achievable – oh the innocence of the 90’s!

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    I started to watch this having forgotten what an odious creature Keith Cooper was. Maybe the way it was edited but had to stop watching, I recall hurling abuse at the TV when it was first shown about the level of condescension and mean mindedness but it seems even more vicious now. . Odd, that the whole place comes across as being populated by vain and arrogant pillocks, not really much different than today really. I will try and persevere and watch it through but if anything was meant to show the archness and otherness of the ‘talent’ it was, and in too many areas today still is, this.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    I watched the whole series a few weeks ago and was astounded at what some of these people were willing to say on camera. I was trying to figure out if it was a British thing, or 1990s thing.

  • AndyB says:

    My curiosity was aroused as I was working abroad when the series was shown so didn’t get to see it . Yesterday I watched the whole lot.
    Well , it reflects what happens in many opera houses x 10 due to the size and importance of the house
    . The constant power struggles between administration and artistic management. A team of workers who are very loyal to the house and its history , but sandwiched between those two factions. Sickly discussions with the boss of the ‘ I feel so and so and I do not run things in the same way and that is the reason for the mess up’ ( Hint, hint!!) ‘ It is so and so’s fault they are not competent’ style. Well at least with the cameras rolling they knew who was stabbing them in the back – eventually.
    Some of the most successful opera productions are the fruit of much argument and stress during the rehearsal period – both on and off stage. Incidentally producer Tim Albery seen in the series is a delight to work with and very dedicated.
    A fly on the wall documentary with a warts and all approach is going to find plenty of conflicts in an opera house. Cost cutting is a necessity, but some of the managerial attitudes displayed around the dispute over extra hours for no pay do not make comfortable viewing.
    The best one can say is that the series is not a bland , whitewashed job, but it hardly provokes a good will response either.

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    I was working in both the Marketing Department (remember the Financial Times Offer?) and the Front of House when this documentary series was made, so I was at the house for about 13 hours of every day.

    I soon realised that if I swore very loudly whenever the cameras approached I wouldn’t be filmed.