The Herald [Glasgow]
By Phil Miller Scottish Opera will have to cancel all full-scale performances for an entire season as part of a financial rescue package agreed yesterday with ministers.
The Theatre Royal in Glasgow, home (for now) of Scottish Opera. The announcement of the "dark" season between summer 2005 and spring 2006 came with confirmation that more than 80 staff from the company will be paid off under the deal with the Scottish Executive, which will give the opera up to £7 million in return.
Unions and MSPs reacted with fury to the business plan presented by Frank McAveety, the culture minister, and Duncan McGhie, chairman of the opera.
Equity, the performers' union, said the deal was the beginning of the end of Scottish Opera, while political opponents accused the executive of badly mishandling the situation.
The £7 million will pay for staff redundancies ó the 34-strong opera chorus are all expected to lose their jobs ó and allow the company to repay a cash advance of £4.5 million over the next four years.
Staffing levels could be reduced from 208 to approximately 120, with backstage, technical and administrative jobs being lost, although the orchestra will be retained.
Running of the Theatre Royal in Glasgow will be handed to a private company, such as the Ambassador Theatre Group, with which the opera is in discussion. The opera will also separate entirely from Scottish Ballet, with which it currently shares staff.
The dark season will mean opera lovers missing an estimated four full-scale performances in 2005ñ06, although the company plans to continue with smaller shows, and its outreach work around Scotland.
The restructuring process will begin this summer and should be completed by June next year. From 2006 onwards, the opera will present four major operas a year, with medium and small-scale concerts.
Mr. McAveety said the new deal would put the opera on a firmer financial footing, at the short-term cost of jobs and performances, although its annual grant of £7.4 million is unchanged.
He said: "What we had to do today is find a solution for long-term sustainability. We recognise that it will be a painful process in the short term but, in the long run, it is about building an opera company that all Scots can take pride in."
Mr. McGhie said the board and senior management team had unanimously endorsed the proposals. "Difficult decisions have had to be taken," he said.
However, Lorne Boswell, Scottish secretary of Equity, which represents the chorus, said the deal was far worse than anyone expected, and he did not rule out industrial action. "I think this is the end of Scottish Opera as we know it," he said. "I don't know how it can be expected to survive this."
Paul McManus, the Scottish organiser of BECTU, who represents technical staff, said its members were devastated. Roseanna Cunningham, of the Scottish National Party [the oppositon in the Scottish Parliament], said: "This situation is a total farce of the [Labour-controlled] Executive's own making, and perhaps we need further financial guidelines in place to ensure that a similar situation doesn't arise again."
Colin Fox, for the Scottish Socialist party, added: "The Executive are acting like job-slashing cultural vandals. Jamie McGrigor, of the Scottish Conservatives, said: "Scottish Opera, its staff and supporters have been cruelly let down by the Executive."

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