The Week in Arts: It's not opera that is behind the times...

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The Independent Online

I wonder what the management of the English National Opera made of remarks in The Independent by the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. Mr Turnage who has had considerable success with two operas - Greek and The Silver Tassie - said in the course of an interview that he didn't intend to write another one.

He went on: "I'm not interested in that world at all. It doesn't turn me on. I feel less and less at home in an opera house. There are financial rewards, but it is a stifling and snotty atmosphere."

He named no names. But as the ENO knows only too well, both of his operatic works have been performed there, down at the self-proclaimed People's Opera. If the ENO management and marketing gurus have failed so glaringly to convince the composer of their own shows of their egalitarianism, what chance do they have of convincing the public?

"Stifling and snotty." It's quite an accusation for a composer to make against the institution that commissioned him. If he had settled for just the one epithet "stifling", it might have been accepted as a provocative piece of cultural criticism. "Snotty" could have been the result of a bad hair day. But stifling and snotty? That almost reeks of ingratitude.

As it happens, I think it may be Mark-Anthony Turnage and not the opera world who is behind the times. As the new opera season gets into its swing, his comments look out of date. Both the London opera houses - and it is they that have borne the brunt of accusations of elitism over the years - are looking anything but snotty. Both have chief executives who are making real efforts to reach out to new audiences. The ENO under Sean Doran has not only brought its work to Glastonbury, but the remodelled house is welcoming and classless, too.

The Royal Opera under chief executive Tony Hall has an innovative if imperfect system for offering more cheap seats; it is commissioning new works for its studio theatres; and, though this has received little attention, the main house stages the odd production on a Sunday afternoon, which, when I went, had a noticeably enthusiastic, more casually dressed and un-snotty audience. Would that theatres could also go the American way and open on Sundays.

There's nothing wrong with our national opera houses that some more price reductions wouldn't cure. Indeed, there's more of a buzz around them than at many of the classical concert halls that Mr Turnage seems to prefer. He's far from alone in labelling the opera world stifling and snotty. But it ceased to be true a long time ago.

Hollywood isn't going to be outfoxed

When Roxy Music won a lifetime achievement award at the Q awards this week, Bryan Ferry dedicated it to his son Otis, the pro-hunting invader of Parliament. Ferry Snr's support for hunting has attracted the attention of Variety, the international entertainment magazine. With such glam hunt supporters as Ferry, right, Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Hurley, Elle Macpherson and Guy Ritchie, any self-respecting international entertainment magazine knows where it stands on the issue.

Indeed, Variety seems alarmed only that Hollywood and its environs are missing out on the fun. So, in its current issue it notes that "California showbizzers with a taste for blood sports need not feel left out; for a yearly membership of $3,000, they can follow in the footsteps of Walt Disney, Ronald Reagan, Randolph Scott, John Huston and Spencer Tracy and ride out with the West Hills Hunt Club."

There's only one snag. The Hollywood hills are a bit short of foxes. Fear not. In good movie tradition, there's always a stand-in. Foxes will be replaced by coyotes.

¿ It's good to see that there's solidarity among artistic directors. Ben Barnes, artistic director of Ireland's national theatre, the Abbey, was unhappy at how his board handled some redundancies there. Artistic directors are not very good at keeping unhappiness to themselves, so he e-mailed his annoyance to fellow ADs around the world, including some in Britain. His e-mail accused the board of trying to make him a scapegoat, and denounced a motion of no confidence he faced at an Abbey shareholders' meeting as "disgraceful".

According to The Stage newspaper, Barnes has now apologised to the Abbey board and avoided dismissal. Britain's artistic directors are no doubt hoping for a fuller account by e-mail.

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