Each year the UK's major opera companies receive around £65m of taxpayer's money, from a total government arts budget of around £1.1bnby Michael Bywater, Anna Picard / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Should we stop subsidising Opera?
It’s an appealing proposition whether or not you go to the opera. If you do, there comes that moment when you look around the audience and think “Dear God let me not be one of them.” And if you don’t, you’d reasonably think “Rich snobs; they have so much money, so why should they get mine too?” It seems simple. But it’s not. Let me deconstruct it a bit.
“Should” surely implies a moral imperative. But what sort of morality? Social? Aesthetic? Political? Or just an animal gut instinct, bile and spite and tooth and claw? All of them, I suspect. Socially, the opera audience is there to display its culture. It disdains the demotic mood of the times. Aesthetically, opera is on thin ice, too, shimmering between the crass and the sublime. No other art-form can, as in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in the scene of the rose presentation, turn two people into the quintessence of erotic desire. But it comes at the price of a hefty dollop of vulgarity and slop.
Political? Our egalitarian polity loathes the sleek men who buy the tickets, softening up clients or other men’s wives. There is no knock on the door that makes them feel sick. They don’t know where to find Poundland or the benefit office.
“Subsidising?” We’re confining ourselves, I think, to public money, distributed openly and accountably. And finally: “opera.” It’s the most expensive and highest-status public performing art, and makes no secret of it on either side of the proscenium.
So it comes down to this: opera is a wasteful, socially-divisive big-ticket festival for rich people to show off to each other and look down on the rest of us, so should we stop giving them a hand they don’t need from public funds which are scarce (and going to get a lot scarcer)? Yes, of course.
Anna Picard writes for the Times and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Three.
Is the proposition really that complex? I don’t think so. But it does depend where you choose to look. These sleek men at Glyndebourne, softening up other people’s wives? Some are there to impress—though the…