Edward Pearce enjoyed "The House" and now wants to run Covent Gardenby Edward Pearce / April 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Consider the BBC?s television programme, The House: a combination of documentary and soap, it also had some of the qualities of opera. It held us fast, while the bald, aggrandising and imperfectly nice Keith Cooper called on Jeremy Isaacs murmuring that a colleague was not quite on his wavelength: Iago wandering into Die Meistersinger to oil up an over-parted Hans Sachs. But much of The House was The Money Programme. “We can?t do this.” “We?re over budget.” “We need extra for that ramp.” The face of Tessa Blackstone at those board meetings was an art form. (And it seems, since The House was made, that they have overshot again by the odd ?2m.)
But chiefly The House is a provocation. Jeremy Isaacs has a line which says: “Look, this thing is hellishly difficult. Yes, it costs a lot, but it has to. That?s the price one pays for our being wonderful. Anyway, if you?re so clever, you do it.”
Let?s do just that. My objections to Covent Garden fall into two categories: cash and art. They use money for origami and give power to despotic little aesthetes-on-horseback who stage conceptual productions which should not be allowed.
The saddest thing was the little conductor from Canada brought in for Massenet?s Ch?rubin, humbly seeking instruction from a languid director after the star Russian conductor had, quite rightly, walked out over directorial intrusion. My response is to write up in flaming capitals: Prima la musica!
The next is to demote the director. Most of us are there for Verdi, Mozart or Wagner; at many productions we just close our eyes. Sorry, but why should a figure like Bernard Haitink be cajoled into a charlatan production cluttered with cars and aeroplanes alien to its text?
I would give the conductor a production veto and encourage him to choose the broad outline of scene-setting. The Opera House should contract younger, less expensive designers. Direction and design have become the Emperor?s new pantomime. But the merits of the grand directors are rarely demonstrable and popular demand offers no support. Yet we are told that such-and-such a fellow is the last word in shimmering perfection and that we must have him at whatever hellish price.
This is absurd. Opera stands or falls on the music. The scene-setting can be handsome and attractive?but ultimately is not that important. Only directors, designers and critics proclaiming “Great is Diana…