Good

Funding cuts ‘threaten the very existence’ of English National Opera

If people aren’t willing to pay for their own pleasures out of their own pockets then why in fuck should they be allowed to pick he taxpayers’ pockets to fund it for them?

Yes, this applies to Strictly Baking A voice at the BBC too.

59 comments on “Good

  1. Most opera fans don’t want to hear Che Gelida Manina or Habanera mangled into English, especially since surtitle displays came in. And yes, I’m sure it is doing lots of new and challenging English operas, but have they got any good tunes? OK, there’s Peter Grimes and Xerxes and well, that’s about it.

    Opera doesn’t have that much trouble surviving. If anything, it’s grown a little in the past 20 years with country house opera, where donors and volunteers get together and make it happen.

  2. It is Progressive to tax poor people so that lefty luvvies can put on challenging and transgressive operatic productions that confirm the Guardianistas view of the world.

  3. I agree, good.

    I think the ENO is crap.

    Always well sung and played, but to be honest, given the professionalism of modern performers that is only to be expected. The productions that I have seen, especially of Handel have been univerallty dire.

    I agree also that ‘done imto English’ operas have had their time. Modern stage technology can fix all the language issus.

  4. Just over a year ago I went to the Paris Opera House (the newer one in Bastille) and saw a maginificent production of The Barber of Seville performed by the Geneva opera company, or somebody. I got the tickets half price through work, but they were nevertheless 75 Euros each, meaning they were 150 Euros each full-price. The show ran for about 10 days and, on the day I went, it was absolutely packed, sold out to the rafters. I went in thinking the tickets were very expensive, I came out thinking the market can support this price and then some. I’d also have paid full price it was that good, and yes, it was sung in Italian with French and English subtitles.

  5. “Gimmie-o, Gimme-o, Gimme-o, Gimme-o, Gimme-o–oh,oh”

    (Sung to the tune of “Figaro” with hands piteously open and extended)

  6. >If people aren’t willing to pay for their own pleasures…

    Make that “If well-off upper-middle class people aren’t willing to pay for their own pleasures”…

  7. Tim Newman,

    There’s really not much trouble selling out the stuff with tunes. Covent Garden charges about £200 for a stalls seat, around £65 in the upper circle and is generally sold out before the performance.

    It’s the “modern and challenging” stuff that soaks up a lot of the subsidy, and that it’s unionised up the arse. They almost have to give away Harrison Birtwhistle stuff, and that stuff also costs big money: paying for composition, new sets and costumes for productions and so forth.

  8. Make that “If well-off upper-middle class people aren’t willing to pay for their own pleasures”…

    Actually, we are prepared to pay – like TN, above, when in Paris. But if the subsidy is there, we’ll take it. My wife gets the OAP’s heating allowance, which we don’t need; but we’ll take it while it is available, as some small recompense for all the tax we have paid to support feckless underclass lifestyles.

  9. I went to a live broadcast of an ENO production of Traviata at my local cinema and it was very disappointing. The ‘sets’ were minimal to say the least and the english translations were jarring.

    Mind you, I watched the live broadcast of Cav/Pag from the ROH directed by the great new kid on the block, Damiano Michielotto, and while it was better that his dire Guillaume Tell, it still had a few jarring moments.

    Since Kasper Holten took over as Director of Opera, the ROH is going for ‘challenging’ a bit more. We’ve got a feminist production of Lucia di Lammermoor to look forward to. Still, since it’s a terrific opera and the great Diana Damrau is playing Lucia I’m sure I’ll pay my two hundred quid to watch it even if I have to close my eyes and just listen.

  10. KB
    I think these live broadcasts to local cinemas are splendid, and they tend to undermine the ‘access case’ for subsidy, because the relatively ‘poor’ can enjoy these performances relatively cheaply.

  11. > as some small recompense for all the tax we have paid

    This. I make a point of taking part in as many state-subsidised middle-class activities as possible.

  12. To my taste opera is one of only two musical forms that gain by being live. That weakens the case for subsidy: if even then punters won’t pay enough to support the companies, then so be it. Of course, if you really want to mine opera subsidies, spend your weekends in Berlin. Oh my!

  13. Some time ago (20-odd years, but …) I went to the Opera in Bratislava because my colleague thought it was a good idea. I cost me the local currency equivalent of 75p. Many people think Opera is wasted on me but even they would make an exception in the case of a few koruna for an otherwise empty seat. The singing (and orchestra) was good as far as I could tell..
    The ENO wastes £millions in the way it runs (and Covent Garden is even worse). Maybe they shoul;d appoint a Slovak musician as general manager if they can’t cope with a *reduction* in subsidies from the pockets of those who cannot afford to buy tickets.

  14. Theo, the simulcasts are good but as DM says, you can’t beat live. Still, I’m off to see Marriage of Figaro from the Met tomorrow and nipping down the local fleapit is a bit cheaper than a transatlantic flight.

    :Last night for Cav/Pag thje cinema was pretty full and ROH were boasting that it was in over eight hundred cinemas world wide so that’s not bad.

    Last time I looked, the ROH was getting around £20 million pa in Arts Council subsidy but it was reducing by about a million a year, which is probably why they keep asking me to be their friend. (Which involves a bit more than ticking a box on Facebook.)

    I believe that sum includes the Royal Ballet as well as the Royal Opera but whether it includes the ballet school or the young artists programme, I’m not sure. They do a lot of youth stuff and ‘outreach’ and other grant gathering stuff so they may get more for that.

  15. Rule of Thumb: At any given performance half the audience is there to be seen and not hear.

    Another Rule of Thumb: All songs must be sung in a language you don’t know. God forbid you sing the shit in English.

    Another Rule of Thumb: The part of young, beautiful heroine/victim/seductress must always be sung by a middle-aged, middle linebacker sized woman who appears to have been eating exclusively in a Waffle House for the past 20 years.

    It sucks and it can’t go away faster enough.

  16. dearieme,

    “To my taste opera is one of only two musical forms that gain by being live.”

    The other being heavy rock/metal? Pop is not improved live. Nor is techno/dance (although Kraftwerk put on a surprisingly good show). I once saw Portishead and it was fine, but really, no better than the record.

    I must admit I’m really impressed with the cinema thing, to the point where it pretty much slakes my thirst for opera at a much lower price. The huge screen, the high quality sound etc. It’s not even so much the ticket cost, it’s the ticket + everything else cost – train to London, taxi home etc. Ends up being more like £120 all in.

  17. Tel

    Quite. So time to cut the subsidies.

    So cut the class-based rhetoric, too. The subsidy is there for yoof and the relatively poor, not the middle classes: we simply avail ourselves of what is available, being thrifty souls…

  18. this debate reminds me of a Smith & Jones sketch from many years ago, in the spoof late night discussion show “After Closing Time”

    “I think it’s appalling that opera receives any subsidies at all, it’s all for toffs, it should cost £200 per ticket”
    “It *does* cost £200 per ticket”
    “That’s appalling, it should be subsidised”

  19. Stig:

    The other being heavy rock/metal? Pop is not improved live. Nor is techno/dance

    No development, minimal technique, beat-based, vacuous ‘lyrics’…so not music to me.

  20. Dennis the peasant,

    Yeah. Saw that Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko, do La Boheme, and she’s kinda gorgeous, but I’d be more worried about her dying from type 2 diabetes than TB.

    Suspension of disbelief, acceptance of the form though. No-one just pulls out a gun in a martial arts movie. And this never happens:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gxb7b0jGZvc

  21. The last little kicker of yours was particularly interesting Tim. A BBC not subsidised by the licence fee would probably be cut down to BBC, BBC2, probably, Radio1, Radio2 AND Radio5, and thay would be it. A very different broadcasting landscape.

  22. Theophrastus,

    “No development, minimal technique, beat-based, vacuous ‘lyrics’…so not music to me.”

    I don’t quite agree. Some of the stuff from Orbital, Underworld and The Chemical Brothers is really good. It is probably one of the worst genres of music for quality because it’s mostly functional music for people who’ve taken ecstacy.

  23. >So cut the class-based rhetoric, too. The subsidy is there for yoof and the relatively poor, not the middle classes: we simply avail ourselves of what is available, being thrifty souls…

    Oh come on. The people who go to opera are overwhelmingly white, upper middle-class, middle-aged people, who don’t need the financial help. And as someone else said, the subsidy also greatly benefits the musicians and singers, keeping them in a nice lifestyle.

    Of course you take advantage of the subsidy. But that doesn’t mean it’s justified.

  24. Tel:
    But that doesn’t mean it’s justified.
    Of course it isn’t justified. See what I said at 1.00pm. Do keep up.

  25. My little head can’t keep up with your multiple layers of irony, Theophrastus. Must be all that opera-going making you so clever.

  26. Rob said:
    “It is a subsidy of the players as much as the punters.”

    I suspect it mostly subsidises the arts bureaucracy.

  27. Tel:
    As I explained above, most middle class opera go-ers would pay the full price. The subsidy keeps the luvvies in clover, permits transgressive/challenging productionus, and allows luvvies to claim that ‘disadvantaged groups’ have ‘access’. We middle class types take advantage of the subsidy, but most of us never lobbied for it. And it should go.

  28. I remember being amused when it was explained to me that Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet score was criticised because they actually die, which is the main point of the story but apparently being still is an awkward concept for dancers, also the music was initially deemed to be too complex
    As to the electronic scene it is a very mixed bag between functional for clubbers to some really good complex stuff, funnily enough it was some mixes with jazz stuff that lead to my son getting into jazz which he claims is the style that gains the most from live performances

  29. Theo, I did actually get what you saying. I was just being ironic.

    And you’ve rather spoiled it all now by being straightforward, instead of slyly oblique.

  30. Do yoiu really want all entertainment to be paid for by the watchers? That includes all sports, arts, theatre, even politics.

  31. Last time I went to the opera it was a little touring company doing The Barber of Seville. They installed a fairly minimal set in the possibly 300-seat auditorium where they were performing and just had at it. It was wonderful. The singing was top-notch, the acting was hilarious, and the costumes were brilliant. We walked out afterwards on a high. I think tickets were something like £25 each.

  32. I don’t think the performers are especially raking it in – but the people running the theatres and production companies are doing very nicely.

    So Richard @ 7.26 has it.

    As an aside, I note that whenever topics like this come up there’s a chorus of people saying how bad it is that the poor are taxed to support the fripperies of the rich.

    Yet when topic of tax burdens come up, the chorus is of people saying that the poor don’t actually pay tax because they are net recipients of public spending.

    The latter is demonstrably true. So the poor are not subsidising opera, except insofar as you might argue that their receiving less in the form of benefits and state services than they otherwise would. But that argument doesn’t fly here for a number of reasons – not least being that I don’t think anyone here would ask that arts’ funding be diverted to the welfare budget. Most would, quite rightly, ask that it be diverted to tax cuts. Those cuts would not benefit the people who don’t actually pay tax.

    So the ‘taxing the poor’ soundbite doesn’t really work as anything except a soundbite. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing. But, otherwise, stick with arts’ subsidies being, predominantly, the middle classes who don’t live in London being taxed to support non-jobs and nights out for the middle classes who do.

  33. @ Stigler:

    Sasha Grey! *Sigh*

    @ Dennis,

    The chick who led Barber at the Bastille opera was tiny. I remember leaving being amazed at how somebody so small could have such a voice. I think she was Eastern European.

  34. Theophrastus:
    [techno/dance]
    “No development, minimal technique, beat-based, vacuous ‘lyrics’…so not music to me.”

    Can’t argue with the last bit, obviously.

    Here’s a combo:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meiKAJzy8WM

    It’s all too brief but I still prefer Penny Shaw’s rendition of L’altra notte in fondo al mare. All the great whales may belt it out to the back rows but they sound ridiculous performing a simple village girl.

    Albums like Reverence by Faithless certainly develop. Clearly they are beat based (not entirely), but certainly not minimal in technique. (Can’t believe it’s two decades ago. Bloody hell.)

    “Vacuous” lyrics is a subjective assessment, and one I’d certainly apply to a great deal of opera. It’s a vast genre that comes across to me as islands of breathtaking genius in a sea of ludicrous pantomime. I wouldn’t offer a figure for the ratio as I haven’t explored sufficiently.

    I don’t see why this simple anthem should be damned:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOcPvLkjD-k
    while so much of opera gets a pass.

    Perhaps I’m unusual in enjoying this stuff along with Beethoven string quartets (and piano trios!). I’m not keen on music that is preposterously up its own arse. That’s most of rock and modern classical out for me. I’d rather have Kylie. Okay, I’m pissed as a rat, but seriously, the video’s worth it:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LePkrr4FeUE
    .

  35. dearieme – “Of course, if you really want to mine opera subsidies, spend your weekends in Berlin. Oh my!”

    Can I just say that you should spend your weekends in Berlin anyway? I prefer even smaller German towns, but I really do think Berlin has turned into one of the more interesting places to visit.

    The Stigler – “Yeah. Saw that Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko, do La Boheme, and she’s kinda gorgeous, but I’d be more worried about her dying from type 2 diabetes than TB.”

    She is more than kind of gorgeous. Some singers can sing and look like Joan Sutherland. OK. She was not hired because she looked like a model. But some of them do look like models. They always have. Look at Elizabeth Schwartzkopf. Rene Flemming scrubs up nicely. Kiri Te Kanawa was a honey in her early days. Sumi Jo has passed that point a lot of East Asian women reach but she was a stunner when she was younger.

    “Suspension of disbelief, acceptance of the form though. No-one just pulls out a gun in a martial arts movie.”

    They do in Jackie Chan’s films.

  36. Dennis the Peasant – “Rule of Thumb: At any given performance half the audience is there to be seen and not hear.”

    Dennis, I am a fan of you work, really I am, but this is so far from the truth I hardly know what to say. It is probably less true than for the crowd at a Chelsea game. People who go to opera don’t go there to hang out with the cool kids. They usually are hard core opera fans. The people who want to be seen go to Museum openings and the like. There is virtually no where to be seen in opera houses. They are usually small.

    Although perhaps I just don’t hang out with those sort of people.

    “Another Rule of Thumb: All songs must be sung in a language you don’t know. God forbid you sing the shit in English.”

    Half the problem with modern opera is that they insist on translating the lyrics from the language they were written in to English – presumably on the assumption their audiences are cretins who cannot follow the story without them. The introduction of subtitles has been a bonus.

    “Another Rule of Thumb: The part of young, beautiful heroine/victim/seductress must always be sung by a middle-aged, middle linebacker sized woman who appears to have been eating exclusively in a Waffle House for the past 20 years.”

    John Wayne never served in the military. It is called acting. Singers are hired for their voice. It is unfortunate but true that a bigger woman produces a better sound. If we can accept Mr Wayne as Genghis Khan, we can accept Dame Joan Sutherland as a tragic heroine.

    “It sucks and it can’t go away faster enough.”

    By all means let’s agree you don’t have to pay for it. But it doesn’t suck.

  37. I hate to criticise someone who has just agreed with me, but I think The Thought Gang is confusing gross and net taxpayers:

    “the poor don’t actually pay tax because they are net recipients of public spending … So the poor are not subsidising opera”

    Millions of poor people pay income tax but are not net taxpayers, because they are receiving more in benefits & direct services than they are paying in tax

    So if money saved from cutting opera subsidies is used to cut income tax (either the basic rate or, more likely, increasing the personal allowance), millions of poor people who are not net taxpayers will gain – their benefits will stay the same (unless they are also opera-goers), but their income tax will fall.

    (OK, those who don’t pay any income tax at all won’t gain; to help them you’d have to cut VAT, but let’s not because VAT is less damaging than income tax)

  38. “Singers are hired for their voice. It is unfortunate but true that a bigger woman produces a better sound. If we can accept Mr Wayne as Genghis Khan, we can accept Dame Joan Sutherland as a tragic heroine.”

    And, of course, as both a before and after, Callas was an interesting study in that context, as voice and performer.

  39. SMFS, the comment from Dennis about people being there to be seen rather than hear is probably true of country-house opera, Glyndebourne and its imitators.

    But I agree, not the ENO. I’d have thought anyone with any pretensions to culture would wear a false beard to avoid being recognised there.

  40. @ Richard

    The amount of income tax paid by ‘the poor’ is insignificant. So if we’re saying that it’s income tax that’s funding opera, and income tax should be cut instead of funding opera, then it’ll make bog all difference to the poor.

    But yes, we can construct an argument to the contrary.

    I suppose I’m just pointing out that I think some of the inhabitants of these parts (including me, I think) tend to vary whether or not we think that the poor are paying tax according to the debate of the day.

  41. Thanx for those Youtube links, PJF. Been looking for some stuff like that for a while. Quality singing with some good beat behind it.
    (Us younger generation pensioners, eh? What’s the world coming to?)

  42. Where opera stands on the spectrum of fun is academic surely. There is a principle that government should not collect funds and establish committees to modify our incentives when we’re looking for a night out.
    My local opera has admitted in its literature that it’s had to put on more popular works to cover its Arts Council shortfall, and that long term it will have to put on more of stuff people like to fund the stuff that isn’t popular yet and statistically never will be.
    You can infer from that the long-term effect of government funding has been less stuff that the public like.

  43. @ Andrew Carey
    Good point on Arts Council funding. Schoolgirl howler on statistics. If it’s “never will be” you don’t need statistics – statistics will merely tell you that they are vanishingly unlikely to be popular in a given time frame (say the next three thousand years).

  44. SMFS –

    Regarding Rule One: Evidently you’ve never been to an opera performance in the USA.

    Regarding Rule Two: Like most Americans, I regard opera buffs insisting there is some sort of benefit to watching a German tenor sing (phonetically) a Russian opera in Italian for an English speaking audience to be as pretentious as it is moronic.

    Regarding Rule Three: Nobody accepted John Wayne as Ghengis Khan… and that’s why The Conqueror is widely considered one of the worst films of all time. Unlike Hollywood, opera types refuse to learn that sort of lesson. I’m all for willing suspension of disbelief, but all I’m saying is this: If you’re going to have a 200 lb. woman playing Salome on stage, you’re going to need a shitload more veils than seven. It’s always better to have someone who wouldn’t qualify as a light-heavyweight in a boxing match playing the part of young beautiful sexpot seductress. It’s why you saw Shelley Winters playing Charlotte Haze and not Lolita.

  45. I want something back for the >50% of income I pay the state. Opera subsidies are basically the only thing I get back. Apart from the contribution they make to a functional society that isn’t completely run by warlords.

    You can charge cost-covering prices for this shit once you cut the subsidies to all the other crap and cut my taxes.

    ENO are OK, by the way. In fact, outstanding for a regional house playing season pieces with second-rate production and singers to an undiscriminating public. Which is what they are. Not everything in London has to be world-class and if they weren’t in London they wouldn’t get the stick for being less than outstanding.

  46. Dennis the Peasant,

    The point about the original language is that singing can be as much about the beauty of how the words sound than the words themselves.

    And the fat birds playing supposedly hot women is just that thin women generally don’t have the voice, which is what it’s about more than anything else.

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