Letter: Musical `elite'

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Lately, opera has repeatedly made the headlines with scandals and the squeals of financial calamities. Above these we hear, just as repeatedly, impassioned pleas for the Government to dole out more money.

But not a few of us see opera as the parasite sucking serious music dry. Most first-rank serious composers hardly wrote operas. Others would still be giants if their operas had never existed (including Mozart). The expense of mounting Beethoven's quartets, Mozart's symphonies and concertos, Schubert's chamber music, piano sonatas, songs, etc, is minuscule when compared to mounting opera.

Opera protagonists are obsessed with big names, extortionate casts, stratospherically salaried conductors. Serious music listeners, on the other hand, enjoy hearing relative unknowns, and trusting their own judgements - not hype. The faces at the Wigmore and South Bank and Barbican overlap little with those at Covent Garden, which overlap more with Wimbledon, Epsom, and Silverstone.

So, I would appeal to the Government differently. Separate-off serious music resources from opera - certainly from Covent Garden. Taking money from string quartets to give to organ-grinder melodramas is surely no less offensive than directing it to pop music. Serious music supporters should lobby to limit resources for opera if this will leave more for the rest of music. The snobbery of forking out big money for fancy tenors to belt out Neapolitan rum-tum-tum will always ensure, anyway, that "grand" opera will never really falter fatally.

Dr GERALD SILVERMAN

Cambridge

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