ARTS / Cries & whispers

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The Independent Culture
TO COVENT GARDEN, my spiritual home, for the ceremonial unveiling of the Royal Opera's 1993-94 season. Jeremy Isaacs left most of the talking to his new lieutenant Nicholas Payne, who has been lured from Opera North in what is assumed to be the expectation of taking over Isaacs' job when it becomes available. Payne was, after all, running his own show in Leeds and very successfully. He has no need to be anybody's Number Two, and his performance on Wednesday proved it.

Normally in combative mood on such occasions, the assembled arts press sat stunned into silence by the novel experience of listening to someone who seemed to know what he was talking about. So stunned that, as Payne complained to me afterwards, 'they failed to laugh at my jokes'. It was left to Isaacs only to make a few punchy remarks about money and advertise for a new sponsor for schools matinees. The previous one has sought refuge overseas from the police, the VAT inspectorate and the Inland Revenue, and is apparently unable to continue the arrangement. That one did get a laugh.

FOR MANY years, Eastern-bloc orchestras have been cheap options for the record industry, grateful for work and prepared to do it for sums that orchestras in the West would be insulted by. But now that things have changed, and the old Empire is striking back. EMI has just received a letter from lawyers for the Dresden Staatskapelle demanding supplementary payments for recordings dating back to the Seventies, on the ground that whatever money was paid over usually went straight into state coffers and left the players with next to nothing. EMI dismisses the letter as a try-on and intends to fight the claim. The company hasn't got much choice. If every orchestra started dredging up what you might call old scores, the industry would wind up. And not even I would want that.

THERE HAS been a strange development, as Gerald Kaufman MP puts the finishing touches to his report of the National Heritage Select Committee inquiry into CD prices. The Daily Telegraph expresses dismay at the top price of pounds 12-15 - on the grounds that it's too low. The paper notes that 'one Sunday newspaper has banged on about CD prices every week for the better part of a year' - a bit more than that, actually, as I would have told them if they'd checked - and calls on record companies to 'ignore the politics of envy and the journalism of jealousy, play the hits for all they are worth and demand pounds 20 or more for David Bowie and Daniel Barenboim discs'.

This is such an odd suggestion it's hard to know where to begin to refute it. I've been called many things since the campaign began, but never jealous. Anyway. I may have started the campaign, but it's not me who is sustaining it - it's our readers, other members of the public, the Consumers' Association, Members of Parliament, managers of top rock bands, and record retailers, including two of the biggest in the country, W H Smith and Our Price. So please - don't pay full price if you can help it, and don't take any notice of the Telegraph.