Opera and ballet are the hottest tickets

Arts news: Surge in popularity as theatre suffers from cuts
Click to follow
Opera and ballet have undergone a resurgence of popularity over the past decade, the Arts Council's annual report reveals today.

It cites surveys that show the number of adults who go to the opera in England has soared by 28 per cent to 2.6 million since 1986, while the number who attend ballet is up by 19 per cent to 2.7 million.

Successes such as those of Matthew Bourne's all-male Swan Lake and Jonathan Miller's Carmen at the English National Opera are thought to have contributed to the trend.

The arts generally are thriving, with the number of people who go to art exhibitions and classical music concerts also at their highest levels for 10 years, the Target Group Index research shows. Last year, 8.7 million people said they went to art exhibitions, a rise of 9 per cent from 1986. Similarly, 5 million said they went to classical music concerts, up by 7 per cent.

The results come despite cuts in funding for the arts, about which the "luvvies" have complained bitterly.

Among them is Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the impresario responsible for the runaway musical successes Cats, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, and arguably the world's most successful theatre producer.

His warning in the same Arts Council report that "the fabric of British theatre, built up over so many decades, has been eroded to a point where the system is like a worn sock" may be supported by the research which shows that, in contrast, theatre attendances in the surveyed period stayed flat.

Last year, 9.5 million people said they went to plays, a rise of only 4 per cent since 1986 - equivalent to the rise in the adult population. The size of the audience for contemporary dance was also effectively static - 1.6 million, up 4 per cent.

It is not clear why theatre should have been at a standstill, though some say drama in England has been over-reliant on old favourites in recent years and has not put sufficient investment into innovation.

In June, Lord Gowrie, chairman of the Arts Council, argued in a speech in the House of Lords that lack of proper revenue funding for the arts would inevitably lead to a fall in attendances. "However much foreign visitors admire your actors, actresses and musicians, they will not indefinitely support uncomfortable, non-air conditioned, tatty theatres," he said.

Lord Gowrie writes in the report that the arts are Britain's third or fourth most important industry, and, if taken with leisure and tourism, equal to the oil, pharmaceuticals and financial services industries.

"So when you read a snide leader in the Sun or Daily Mail about lottery grants, or tales of `luvvies lining each other's pockets', please remember that `luvvies' of one kind or another are seeing to it that Britain is boxing above her weight in the world as well as contributing hugely to her economy. Only perhaps the Sovereign carries as much moral weight beyond our shores as our artists."