Royal House Names New Chief Executive

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Tuesday’s announcement that Alex Beard, 49, has been appointed as the new chief executive at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden was remarkable for its speed, especially because Beard comes from outside the institution. Typically, such searches take a longer period because the supply of able and qualified individuals is always limited, even for such a prestigious post, as few people have the necessary qualifications.

Beard replaces Tony Hall, an able administrator who announced in November that he would leave the ROH to take over the BBC, Britain’s iconic national broadcasting service that has been saddled with problems. Hall’s abrupt departure created concern that the relative stability (for an arts institution) and high standards of the Royal Opera House might be threatened.

Alex Beard has, since 2002, been Deputy Director of the group of museums known to visitors to London simply as The Tate. In fact, there are three buildings in collections under that umbrella: Tate Britain (the original museum), Tate Modern and Tate St. Ives. Beard created the business plans for the successful expansion of the Tate, which he joined in 1994. This coordination of different institutions and their particular needs may have been part of what persuaded the search committee to offer him the job.

The Royal Opera House (not be confused with the Royal Opera, one of its two resident companies) is unusual to those who tend to think of performing arts organizations as having an administrator or executive in one job and a person responsible for the artistic side on the other. At Covent Garden, the chief executive sits above two individuals, the Director of Opera (Kasper Holten) and the Director of Ballet (Kevin O’Hare) but also works more directly with the formidable conductor Antonio Pappano, who sets the tone for the musical standards in the building and is, in most ways, the individual the public first thinks of in connection with the Royal Opera House.  

The company has made known that Sally O’Neill, now Finance Director, will act as Interim Chief Executive until Alex Beard takes up his position. Beard will be paid £250,000 per year ($378,260), which is lower than the compensation for many comparable heads of performing arts companies in the USA.  

The ROH budget for the fiscal year 2010-11 was £109.5 million. Of this, £27.9 million came from the nation’s Arts Council. This figure is staggering to an American arts administrator, where government subsidies for the arts are not only minuscule by comparison, but more controversial. The Royal Opera House took in £37.7 million at the box office. Donations, bequests and sponsorships brought in £20.7 million. Commercial trading, touring and other income was £23.2million.

Beard will start his position in full with the beginning of the 2013-14 season but will be available for consultation before then.